Monday, February 9, 2015

President's Letter: For Good

“I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but, because I knew you I have been changed for good.” 
Stephen Swartz, playwright of “Wicked”

These poignant words reflect the feelings of Rising Star Outreach participants. Throughout the years their lives have changed for the better by working with those affected by leprosy. It saddens us that in the past few months many dear friends have died, but we are touched by their goodness and legacy.

Our beloved Chairman of the Indian Board of Directors and Co-Founder of Rising Star Outreach, Ms. Padma Venkataraman lost her husband, Dr. K. Venkataraman, on January 16, 2015. He was an avid supporter for those affected by leprosy. Through his support of Padma, he touched and improved many lives. We express our deepest sympathy to Padma and her family.

We are also saddened at the passing of our patient and dear friend from the Mogolvadi Leprosy Colony, Saroja. Saroja contracted leprosy when she was very young and lived with this disease for over thirty years. She lived with the incredible challenges and struggles caused by leprosy, but found the strength to share her love, which touched the lives of her friends in profound ways.

Saroja was known as the "bird lady" because she shared her meager supply of food with birds, squirrels, and other animals. Her fragile body was ravaged by leprosy and she constantly suffered from pain and discomfort. Despite this, she greeted all with a contagious, bright smile. Many medical workers and volunteers went to Mogolvadi to lift Saroja, yet she was the one that lifted our spirits and touched our souls.


Karupiah, a patient in the Kalvarinagar Leprosy Colony, also passed away this year. He finally had his eyesight restored after 20 years of blindness. He lifted others by his devotion to praise God for His goodness and mercy.

Muthushah, the carpenter in the Bharathapuram Leprosy Colony also passed away this year. His beautiful woodwork was well known throughout the area near the colony, and because of him the stigma associated with leprosy was lessened.


Muniyamma, another patient living in the Bharathapuram Leprosy Colony, passed away in January. I have known Muniyamma for over eight years and always looked forward to my visits with her. She was a strong woman who faced the disease of leprosy with a positive attitude and quiet strength. I appreciate her friendship and will miss our visits together.

We express our sympathy to the families of these dear friends and to all others that have passed this year. Their legacy of resilience and love lives on, and we honor them by helping others.

I am writing this newsletter from the Rising Star Outreach campus in India. It is after-school playtime, and I can hear the gleeful voices of the children on the track and the playground. The sound of their happy voices is music to my ears because I know how diligent they are in their studies, not only during the day, but also in the evening.  Playtime is a wonderful way for them to develop their creativity and imagination, which in turn invigorates their bodies and enlivens their brains. The Rising Star Outreach campus is a center for learning. We want our students to be in an environment of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth and development. We also believe that value-based learning is integral to a child’s education. I am grateful to the professionals and staff at Rising Star Outreach for their hard work and dedication in changing these lives for good.

In January I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Women to Women Session (W2W) on our beautiful Rising Star Outreach campus. Volunteers come from all over the world to share their skills and talents with Rising Star Outreach. It’s humbling and exciting to watch as they immerse themselves in this remarkable work, gain an understanding of a new culture, and experience the heat and humidity. As many of you know, they experience emotions that range from heart wrenching to joyous, and as they witness the extremes of India they don't spend time asking why, but rather how? How can I help? It’s heart-warming that volunteers focus on the positive aspects of this work, rather than dwelling on the aspects that could be perceived as overwhelming.

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Volunteers are humbled when a patient's face lights up with gratitude as their ulcers are washed and cleaned. Volunteers are gratified when they work on a colony project and realize how significant these projects are to those living in the colony. Volunteers thrill to see the delight on a child’s face when a new concept is understood or mastered. They feel these heartfelt emotions because their help makes a huge difference in the lives of the students and the patients they assist.

If the words from the above song resonate with you in being led to those who help us most to grow, come join us as a volunteer. It truly is life changing. Ask a volunteer to share their story!

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Your continued support of Rising Star Outreach is deeply appreciated. Because of you, Rising Star Outreach has been changed for the good.


Sally Read
Rising Star Outreach

Thursday, January 1, 2015

President's Letter: New Year

“I have the opportunity, once more to right some wrongs,
to pray for peace, to plant some trees,
and sing more joyful songs.” 
—William Arthur Ward

Peery School Student, Sathya K., Assistant in Sapphire House. 2014 Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski

As a New Year begins I want to express sincere gratitude for your support of Rising Star Outreach. Supporting our programs is a vote of confidence in what we are doing, and we look forward to another year of providing the very best assistance to those affected by leprosy through these remarkable programs.

The mission of Rising Star–to help the leprosy colonies become thriving, self-sufficient communities–is accomplished with three major initiatives:

  • Using micro-grants to provide economic rehabilitation
  • Providing medical care
  • Giving opportunities to students to become productive citizens of India through education

    This month Tyler Vigue, Executive Director at Rising Star Outreach, prepared a report about these initiatives and included information about the Sponsorship and Volunteer programs. Click here to see the report! Because of the diligence and hard work of our amazing India and USA staff, Rising Star continues to be an effective and efficient organization!

    If you've ever wondered about who the students are that we help at Rising Star Outreach, here's a brief message from one of our students!

    Krishnamoorthy's School Photo

    "This is me :) I am Krishnamoorthy. I'm in 10th Standard in Rising Star Outreach. My family lives in Krishnagiri district. My sister is married, and my younger brother is doing his 7th Std with me in Rising Star Outreach. My favorite subjects are Science and Math. My ambition is to become a doctor because I like to serve the society. I always look forward to learning something new. I also participate in all the sports events conducted in school. My favorite games are volleyball and cricket. I am a good opening batsman in the cricket team. I love playing musical instruments like the guitar and the drums. My favorite hobby is listening to music. I have also started learning classical music because of my interest in it."

    January 25 is World Leprosy Day! This special day raises awareness of leprosy as a 21st century disease and helps those around the world focus on the needs of some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world—those affected by leprosy. Share the mission of Rising Star with your friends, sponsor a child, donate to one of our initiatives, or sign up to volunteer with us this year! With your assistance Rising Star can continue its work of transforming and lifting lives. You make it possible to“right some wrongs, pray for peace, plant some trees, and sing more joyful songs.”   

    Happy 2015!


    Wednesday, December 31, 2014

    Rising Star Outreach Milestones 2014

    The following blog post, written by Executive Director Tyler Vigue, is a report on the incredible progress we've made as an organization this past year. 

    Peery School Student, Veera, 2nd Standard. 2014 Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski


    All five Rising Star Outreach students studying in the 12th Standard completed their studies and four of them have continued on in various educational programs in both collegiate programs and work-study vocational programs.

    The 10 students studying in the 10th Standard all did well, passing their critical state exams. All ten were subsequently admitted and enrolled in the prestigious St. Johns Academy, where they are doing very well.  

    The student body on campus has grown to a new high of 240 students.

    Perpetual Education Colony Grants were issued to 188 students from various leprosy colonies throughout Tamil Nadu to allow them to live at home and study in their local schools. 

    All together, the total number of students being supported in their education by Rising Star Outreach is currently 447!

    Medical Services

    The Mobile Medical Clinic provided primary care for up to 485 patients each month in the 11 satellite colonies served. Over 100 patients were referred and admitted to hospitals for additional services, while 38 different patients received assistive devices from Rising Star Outreach. 

    Hundreds of patients in these satellite colonies received additional support from Rising Star Outreach in the form of food, supplies, psychological counseling, eye care, physiotherapy, vaccinations, and health education. With the support of Rising Star Outreach, several colony members also began participation in substance abuse rehabilitation programs.  

    Monthly, 175 additional leprosy-afflicted patients in extension colonies received supplies of bandages and medicine to support the use of their self-care wound kits.  

    In June, 2014 the first expansion office of Rising Star Outreach was opened in Trichy. In the first month of operation, the medical team of the Trichy branch identified and registered 95 leprosy-affected patients for services. In less than six months the total number of patients has grown to over 500 patients registered and several hundred receiving services each month. 

    All told, over 20,000 medical services were rendered by Rising Star Outreach in 2014! 

    Leprosy colony tenant Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski

    Colony Development 

    Infrastructure: Improved living conditions in 8 colonies and two villages by constructing 22 toilets and 3 water tanks. Additional services were provided to renovate 2 toilets, enhance access to water and electricity, and sustain and improve community resources such as community centers where Rising Star Outreach medical services are provided.

    Economic Opportunity: Micro-grants were extended to five newly established groups in five different colonies, benefiting 51 enterprising recipients of new loans. Revolving loans from existing funds were extended to 108 recipients from 12 ongoing support groups in five different colonies.

    All told 159 individuals capitalized on micro-credit opportunities from Rising Star Outreach to start or enhance income generating activities to bless their lives and the lives of their families.  

    Thanks for all of your help and service!
    Rising Star Outreach not only began providing more services to more colonies in 2014, but also identified at least 3 colonies that were not even known before and has initiated various programs to serve scattered leprosy-affected individuals throughout Tamil Nadu.  

    Many lives have been lifted and there is still much to be done and we could not do it without the help of each of you. 

    - Tyler Vigue, Rising Star Outreach Executive Director

    Sunday, November 30, 2014

    President's Letter: Holiday Giving

    December 2014 Newsletter

    “Leprosy work is not merely medical relief. It is transforming the frustration in life into the joy of dedication, personal ambition into selfless service. If you can transform the life of a patient or change his values of life, you can change the village and the country.”  
    -Mahatma Gandhi
    While we prepare for a joyous holiday celebration with family and friends, let's pause to reflect on those who are not so fortunate and remember Rising Star Outreach on our gift-giving list. Rising Star Outreach has a deep impact on the lives we touch in India. You and your family can be part of this meaningful work by contributing to the many giving campaigns we have. Visit our website and get started on your own giving campaign!

    For less than the price of most candy bars—a dollar a day—you can help give a child proper nutrition, medical care and dental care, and the blessing of a quality education. Eight years ago when I first volunteered at Rising Star I met Sonya, a student at our Rising Star campus. Because she was so shy and had limited English, she struggled in school. Today Sonya is one of the top students in the 12th Standard and is looking forward to attending a top ranked university to study medicine.  She wants to use the opportunities she has been given to give back to her country. Sponsoring a child like Sonya gives the gift that keeps on giving throughout many generations! A friend of Rising Star lost a teenage daughter in a tragic death. She decided to sponsor a young girl in honor of her daughter. She wrote:

    I took the opportunity to sponsor a teenage girl. That means that I will pay a dollar a day to help support her and others at the school. She is a member of the school dance group. I felt [my daughter’s] nod of approval as I watched [my sponsor child's] passion for dancing. I couldn't stop the tears when I observed her smiles and joy when she performed—very much reminding me of [my daughter’s] joy and passion for dance. I feel so connected to this young girl [and also my daughter]. She wants to be a teacher one day, and I plan to do everything I can to make that a reality for her.”
                                -- E. Knell

    Click here to sponsor a child!

    If you’re looking for a meaningful experience for yourself or your children, if you're looking for an opportunity to serve as a family, please volunteer at Rising Star Outreach. Serving side-by-side with your family or friends makes memories that last a lifetime! It certainly was life changing for my family. One parent shared his thoughts about serving with his daughter at Rising Star Outreach:
    “My oldest daughter and I arrived at Rising Star’s campus in India in July 2014. It has been an amazing experience. We visit colonies to care for leprosy patients. We do manual labor and we visit the school. It’s hard work. Hard physically and hard emotionally, to see people suffering great physical pain, to be so far from everything familiar...but it’s just that sort of challenge that gives me confidence in the outcome of our family. It is the process of quietly serving others, dad after day that builds the qualities every parent wants to see in their children; a caring heart, a selfless attitude, and the confidence to do hard things. These are qualities that we talk about but struggle to teach when we are engulfed in our own easy lives; yet they develop naturally when you spend your days serving someone else far from home, and far outside your own comfort zone.
    It’s a wonderful thing to watch my daughter work to build up others and know that they are building up her as well, in ways that my wife and I can hardly do without their help. I look at the other volunteers and smile, as I think of their parents worrying about them. I watch them all serve and I see how well they are doing. And I wish every parent could experience what I’ve been through here. “
                  --N. Wells

    Click here to be a volunteer!

    Last October while visiting a new colony I met a beautiful woman, a mother named Nithia. She shared with me that begging in the streets was very difficult, but it helped feed her children. She had no hope that life could be different for her.  Because Nithia has received a micro-loan from the self-help group in her colony, today she has a small business as a seamstress and is no longer humiliated by begging in the streets. She is lifting her own life and filling her children’s lives and her community with hope! Please consider contributing to the micro-grant program and empowering individuals with the gift of dignity and productive work.

    Click here to contribute to the micro-grant program!

    This year our wish list includes ways you can help Rising Star purchase specific items that are needed in the colonies and on the campus. You and your family might be interested in providing assistance for the Medical Program, which helps thousands receive essential medical care, bandages, and medicines. You can make a donation to help purchase clothing, blankets, or items for the classrooms, or donate to help purchase a sewing machine or even a goat! (Now that’s a great way to get your children excited about helping others!)

    Click here to “Buy a Goat” and other gift guide items!

    Heartfelt thanks for helping Rising Star Outreach transform lives through these generous gifts. Our own lives are transformed and enriched when we care enough to reach out to others.

    Happy holidays!


    Sally Read
    Rising Star Outreach

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    President's Letter

    November 2014 Newsletter

    Paul Zak, a neuroscientist, has demonstrated that acts of kindness are like using a muscle: each act strengthens the capacity for others.

            Rising Star Outreach continues to be strengthened by the contributions of those who believe in our mission of helping thousands of people affected by leprosy.  In October Dr. Susan Hilton, Managing Director of Rising Star Outreach of India, travelled to the USA, during which time she met with friends of Rising Star Outreach and attended a Board Meeting of the USA Rising Star Outreach Board of Directors.  Dr. Hilton is a remarkable woman in her own right, but as the director of our India campus she leads with vision, grace, and fortitude.  She and Padma Venkataraman  (Chairman of the Board of Directors in India) are taking Rising Star Outreach to new heights.
    India Presentation For US Board Meeting
    Rising Star Outreach of India Medical Team and Dr. Susan Hilton
    (Courtesy: Dr. Susan Hilton)
    Dr. Hilton shared with the board how Rising Star Outreach continues to make progress in medical care, micro-grants, and in the education of the students.  The Volunteer program and the Sponsorship program also strengthen the organization and move Rising Star Outreach forward because they increase the capacity to reach more people and assist them with the care they desperately need.  Rising Star Outreach is fortunate to have the leadership of Ms. Padma Venkataraman and Dr. Susan Hilton!  Rising Star Outreach is also privileged to have board members that share their time, energy, and resources in supporting the work of Rising Star Outreach.

    Lexi Walker and David Archuleta (Courtesy: Bry Cox) 
      On October 24, Rising Star Outreach hosted a special evening with David Archuleta and Lexi Walker at the lovely home of Scott and Karen Keller in Bountiful, Utah.  It was a gathering of friends: friends who have supported Rising Star Outreach for many years through volunteering, sponsoring students, or donating their time or resources.  New friends also attended to gain a greater understanding of Rising Star Outreach's mission.  Si Foster, creator and chef extraordinaire of A Bountiful Kitchen, generously donated her time and resources to prepare delectable menu with glorious hors d'oevres and mouthwatering desserts.

           As President of Rising Star Outreach I was thrilled to welcome everyone and express appreciation for the support they've given.  I spoke about my frequent trips to India and the privilege I have had of associating with individuals and families living in the colonies that are affected by leprosy.  While visiting with them I see faces of hopehope because of the assistance of Rising Star Outreach. I see hope on the faces of the patients who have their leprous ulcers washed, cleaned, and wrapped with new bandages.  I see hope shining on the faces of those who have received micro-loans and now have the ability to lift their families from poverty.  Our students experience hope when education increases their confidence, intellect, and determination. At Rising Star Outreach, we understand that hope is lifting individuals, families, and communities.

           Lexi Walker, a gifted 12-year old singer, opened the musical portion of the program with the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie.  She visited Rising Star Outreach’s website and found two students to sponsor—one her age and one her brother’s age.  She was happy to have the opportunity to help them receive the gift of education.  Lexi’s voice is beyond her years, and her love of music and appreciation for Rising Star Outreach was a gift to all those who heard her perform.

    Kendra Lowe playing the piano (Courtesy: Bry Cox)
    David Archuleta, a remarkable musician and celebrity, spoke about his experience in January 2011 volunteering with Rising Star Outreach in India.  He recalled spending special time with the students and had tender feelings as he gave medical care to those affected by leprosy.  He delighted us with his rendition of Somebody Out There,“ a favorite song of Rising Star Outreach supporters, and other beautiful songs with his extraordinary voice.  David is a dear friend of Rising Star Outreach, and we are grateful for the way he constantly shares his gift of music and compassion with us. 

    The talented Kendra Lowe accompanied Lexi and David as their musical director and as musical arranger for Lexi.  She is an accomplished musician, and Rising Star Outreach is grateful to her incredible musical talents.  The guests enjoyed personal photos with David and Lexi taken by the talented Bry Cox.  What a great evening!

    unnamed Tyler Vigue, Executive Director of Rising Star Outreach, introduced a new way to donate to Rising Star Outreach through the Amber Douglas Circle of Hope. Here's an excerpt of his speech: Rising Star Outreach would not exist if it wasn’t for the empathy and compassion of Amber Douglas and the tragic way that her life ended.  The mission of Rising Star Outreach is to lift a population of people who suffer much like Amber Douglas suffered. Amber understood the sadness and isolation that comes when you feel that you are alone.  While Amber was blessed with a loving family and many opportunities throughout her life, the unfortunate reality was that she felt isolated while battling the demons of loneliness and depression.  The inspirational way that Amber still demonstrated compassion for others led her family to India and brought her mother, Becky, literally face-to-face with people who suffer an indescribable stigma because of a disease and cultural pattern that truly should have no place in the world today.  Amber’s example of compassion and service led to the creation of an organization that now invites donors and supporters the world over to learn to empathize with those who suffer and to be part of creating needed change.  The Amber Douglas Circle of Hope has been established to invite friends and supporters of Rising Star Outreach to help broaden the circle of support demonstrated by Amber’s loving generosity.

            Following Tyler’s remarks, David and Lexi joined together to sing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin and ended the evening with the moving song ‘The Prayer of the Children” by Kurt Bestor.  David and Lexi also graciously volunteered their time so attendees could have a photo taken with these two talented young people.  On behalf of Rising Star Outreach, I express sincere appreciation to all who helped make this event so beautiful and memorable—especially to those who are now part of the Amber Douglas Circle of Hope.  With continued support Rising Star Outreach can continue offering hope: hope of a hand-up, not a hand out, hope to a heart who needs mending, hope to a life needing a lift and love.  Come join us in donating to the Amber Douglas Circle of Hope.  (Contact Tyler Vigue at

    1cce86fIn October, changes were made to the USA staff of Rising Star Outreach. Callie Reagan, Director of Programs and Outreach, made the decision to seek education opportunities in another state, and Heidi Lelle has filled her position.  The halls of the Provo office and the campus in India have been filled with the sounds of Callie's infectious laugh, which we will miss dearly.  Energetic, gregarious, and totally committed to Rising Star Outreach, Callie was enthusiastic about her job, yet always mindful of the struggling volunteer, the student needing a boost, or the older person with leprosy in need of a hug.  Thank you, Callie, for sprinkling Rising "Stardust" wherever you went during your time with us.

    28933e7We welcome Heidi Lelle, a native of Connecticut to our team as the Director of Communications and Outreach.  Focused on working in the non-profit sector, Heidi has extensive digital and communications project management experience from previous roles at Wake Up World Communications, United Nations Foundation, and BYU-Hawaii's Student Affairs.  Throughout her studies at the American University in Cairo, The 2nd Inaugural Voyage of the Scholar Ship, and Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Heidi has traveled to over 20 different countries, including India where she volunteered for a short time at a school in Kerala. Her experience there inspired her to serve 18 months as a community service volunteer in Greece and Cyprus and instilled her drive to be an agent of change for the greater good. Heidi graduated with a B.A. in Political Science, minoring in Intercultural Communications, and received an Intercultural Peace-Building Certificate at the David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding. We are excited and look forward to her sharing her talents to further the Rising Star Outreach mission to lift those with leprosy.

    As Mother Teresa so beautifully shared, “I never beg for money. I only give you the opportunity of doing something beautiful for God.” On behalf of Rising Star Outreach, I express sincere appreciation during this month of gratitude to so many of you for your continued support, which always does something beautiful for Rising Star Outreach and for God.
    Sally Read
    Rising Star Outreach