Honoring Bob Kizer

On Monday, Feb. 20, United Way of Central Indiana was saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Kizer, president and CEO of Starfish Initiative (a United Way partner agency).  We would like to honor Bob and his commitment to our community by publishing a recent story he shared with us a few weeks ago, before he lost his battle with cancer.  Bob was an inspired leader, a beloved mentor, and a true United Way Success Story.


Mentorship leaves a profound impact on future of scholar’s life and career

For Starfish Initiative Scholar DeShawn, December 1 will be a day he won’t soon forget. Every 30 minutes he checked his email – looking for the one message that would change his life in unimaginable ways. Finally, as he sat in the Speedway High School library, just minutes before speech practice was to begin, he was left speechless. DeShawn had just received a full ride scholarship to the University of Chicago.

As a junior, DeShawn’s Mentor Bob Kizer, who also happens to be the president and CEO of Starfish Initiative, introduced DeShawn to Questbridge, a highly competitive program that matches exceptional, low- income youth with some of the nation’s best colleges. The summer before his senior year, DeShawn and Bob were planning to attend a Questbridge conference in Chicago and decided to leave a day early to visit the University of Chicago. The appeal to DeShawn was immediate.

“When Bob told me to look into the college, I was leery about the crime rate, but I looked into it anyways. The academics and opportunities immediately began to appeal to me,” said DeShawn. “When I stepped on campus, I immediately felt like I belonged there and fell in love. This is what made it my first choice.”

And while it was his mentor that first introduced him to Questbridge and the University of Chicago, the relationship  between  DeShawn  and  Bob  began when he was just beginning his freshmen year of high school. His guidance would help DeShawn excel.

“A good mentor’s role is just to open the eyes of the mentee – DeShawn had the innate talent and ability to be admitted into the University of Chicago – the rest was fun and easy” said Kizer, who also nervously checked his social media for DeShawn’s attempts to reach him throughout the day.

“Bob brought many opportunities to the table. He helped me tremendously with the pursuit of college,” said DeShawn. “Starfish has been a completely life changing experience. It has opened me up to many possibilities while at the same time finding one to focus on. It has helped me to grow into a leader and role model for others. It helped me reach my full potential and given me a lifelong friend.”

As a sophomore DeShawn had the opportunity to meet Dr. Benjamin Carson, celebrated Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, renowned  author  and  subject  of the movie Gifted Hands. That encounter heavily influenced DeShawn’s career focus. He’s determined to leverage his University of Chicago education on becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon – a profession he feels will let him “help save lives and improve them.”

When DeShawn’s family first set out to find a mentoring program, the hope was that it would help him reach his potential. Yet, what he found in Starfish and his Mentor Bob exceeded all expectations and created an impact that DeShawn will remember his entire life.

“Mentorship is the spark to my success. It lit the fuse that brought me to where I am today and where I will be in the future,” said DeShawn. “Mentorship helps reveal true potential and lead to great success.”