The name for Garrett’s charities isn’t a play on his time with the Dallas Cowboys, where he played from 1992-99 and later coached from 2007-19. Rather, the name comes from the story of a kid on walking the beach throwing every starfish he found back into the ocean. When asked why he was taking on the impossible task of saving each one, and that it can’t make a difference, the kid points out it makes a difference for each one he tosses back.
One such starfish that Garrett saved is Freddie Santana, who stood out “like a blinking light” to Garrett and the staff at the camp.
“He really embraced the opportunity, and, again, was always recognized as one of the best campers,” Garrett said.
The difference the Starfish Charities football camp made in Santana’s life paid dividends as Garrett sought to expand the outreach. Garrett and company were attempting to find a unique way to give scholarship money. Santana asked if he could have a day to think it over.
Said Garrett: “He came back a day later and had this idea of the ‘Make a Difference Challenge.’ Playing on the starfish story where it makes a difference to this one, he said, ‘Rather than just kind of giving something to the kids, let’s see if we can get them to think as leaders in their community and try to address a problem that they think is in their community and put a plan in place to solve it.’ And, again, a big part of what we’re trying to do is empower leaders and we thought this was a great idea.”
The “Make a Difference Challenge” asks the campers to come up with a mission statement, strategies, action points, and a comprehensive proposal to address a need in their community.
“We’re going to ask you to be a leader in that community, and, again, it goes back to Freddie who can speak to this and did a favorable thing for us with proposals through the years,” Garrett said.
In 2021, the Starfish Charities awarded a $5,000 college scholarship to the contest winner, $2,500 to the runner-up, and $1,000 each to three special mentions. Schools or teams with the most participants in the contest will receive $250 for a team party during the 2021-22 school year.