Jenni Clark, the visionary Founder & CEO of StarThrower Group, is a compassionate and dedicated leader with a profound commitment to inclusive education and community empowerment. Her educational journey began at Cedar Crest College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English. Jenni’s passion for education deepened as she later obtained her NJ Teacher Certification K-12 for English, laying the groundwork for a career dedicated to enriching the lives of students.
In 2010, Jenni further enriched her academic qualifications by completing a Master of Arts in Education for Adult Education and Training from the University of Phoenix. Armed with a comprehensive understanding of adult education principles, she seamlessly transitioned between roles in public schools and providing private instruction, specializing in supporting struggling students and young adults.
Jenni’s passion for creating meaningful opportunities for students with special needs reached a pivotal point during her tenure at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in the Workplace Readiness program. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by these individuals during their transition from high school to adult life, she founded the StarThrower Group in 2018. This groundbreaking initiative currently serves over 40 families in Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, and Mercer counties, embodying its mission to build inclusive communities, inspire careers, and forge connections that pave the way for a successful and joyous adult life for young individuals with special needs.
StarThrower Group is a member-driven and project-focused organization catering to individuals in their 20s and 30s, providing a unique space for career exploration and community connections. Unlike traditional day programs, StarThrower Group prioritizes its members, creating an innovative environment that combines elements of a campus community center and an office with flexible working options. With a commitment to inclusion for adults with special needs, the organization’s mission revolves around bringing graduates together with peer mentors and community partners, fostering career development and networking opportunities through member-driven, project-based interactive experiences, and ultimately creating and sustaining inclusive opportunities in the community. Your day, your way, at StarThrower Group – where careers, connections, and community take center stage.
Cara: Welcome to the Women’s Roundtable podcast, powered by the Think Factory, where we learn how women think big and grow their business. My name is Cara Fialkoff Council with Outside General Counsel Solutions and I’m the host of today’s episodes. I’m happy to have with me today Jenni Clark, the Founder of StarThrower Group. This is an amazing organization whose mission is to build inclusive communities, inspire careers, and help make connections that help establish a successful and happy adult life for young adults with special needs. So, Jenny, thank you so much for spending time to talk with me today. I know we know each other a little bit, but can you give me a little bit of background on the history of StarThrower Group and how you got it started?
Jenni: Okay. Well, thank you for having me. And I wanted to start this organization. I was teaching at Hunterdon Central High School and working with the Workplace Readiness Program with 17- to 21-year-olds to with special needs to help them develop the skills that they need to after graduation. And it was such a great program and a wonderful experience. And I thought, well, what happens to these guys after they graduate? And did some research and found out that it was definitely not anything that I liked, which I guess is really the best answer. And it was disappointing because none of the options. Treated them like adults, treated them with respect. I felt that the options where you go to this day have, which is like a day care and you can color and do puzzles, or you go to like a workhouse, and, you know, they’re not workhouses, but that’s really what they are. And, you know, you can take impact and do some basic stuff. And and as I have been going through, I have three kids. My oldest is now 28 and my middle is my son, who is 24, and my youngest is going to be 20. And each of them in their own way is disabled, if you will, with either autism or ADHD or a combination. But I didn’t know. And as a young mum, I was 25, 27, I guess when my youngest was going to kindergarten, I would have been almost 30. But either way, when I was bringing her to kindergarten and first grade and she was having these issues, sensory issues, there’s lumps in my socks and having meltdowns because of that, you know, I thought, my gosh, what is wrong with this kid? I had no idea. And I didn’t question, you know, except that she was just, you know, either overtired or whatever. There was always some excuse. And later I realized, like looking back, that those were signs that she could be autistic. And it wasn’t until I had my son where he didn’t talk until he was about 19 months old. And then he was speaking in full sentences. And within another year he was reading. And so I was like, okay, this kid is really smart. But the teachers were noticing things and they and so I started, we started doing research, and my friend was getting her master’s. I was working on mine. And, you know, we’re seeing all this research and learned a lot about autism and ADHD and the spectrum that that is. And so then, with my youngest, I spent most of her life saying, well, could she be is she I, am I is she doing that because her brother is doing it? Is she doing it because it’s that her nature. So she has her own set of issues. She did end up with an AI IEP in school and an education plan that was really geared towards, you know, her needs. And I think with regard to all of the young adults that we work with, everybody has their own special needs. And if we look at it as you have a label and you mean this, then we’re not really getting it. And I think that’s how I’ve approached my kids, because I don’t need a label. I need to address their needs. So, what we do here and why I started this is because then I have control over my staff being able to and the way we approach things and we can individualize things and we can really look at the people, not just the process.
Cara: I was going to say it seems like that individualized kind of care and figuring out what’s best for the individual to grow is really what sets you apart.