Message from Utopia Foundation’s Chair

Utopia Foundation Chairman Paul Sutherland reflects on why he believes offering our lives in selfless service is the right thing to do. Utopia Volunteers can help make this process seamless and easy for you — let us help make expressing your good intentions easy. Contact us about getting involved today.


I love the starfish story. I like its message but looking deeper at the story, it seems to me it is really about being moved to help anonymously and without reward. In other words, the message is about volunteering.

The story has 3 characters:

1) The child who voluntarily is moved to save the life of each individual starfish.
2) The starfish that is “saved” and gets a second chance because of the young girl’s effort.
3) The old man who questions the impact that the child is having.

I think any person feeling moved to volunteer can relate to each of the three characters, but mostly my belief is that a volunteer will relate to the little girl who acts because she feels compelled to help. Her act is quite humble by many standards. No, she did not cure cancer, build a school for orphans, save a whale – I doubt she will be interviewed on 60 minutes for her effort. But, she did something to help a vulnerable creature.

I think if she was asked why she helped the starfish she would just shrug her shoulders and say, “Just because,” and reach down and grab another starfish to throw back in the sea. She was just doing the right thing because it is right.

I have been involved in volunteering for most of my life and when people ask me about a volunteer trip, I feel almost embarrassed to chat about it. It’s as if to talk about it would take away from its specialness.

I have held babies orphaned by AIDS, rocked a 3 pound-week old baby girl found in an open latrine, painted schools with school children, consulted on business opportunities, washed lice out of kids’ hair knowing it would return the next day, guided seven-year-olds through the rigors of brushing around their newly missing front teeth (as I sung to myself “all I want for Christmas is my 2 front teeth”), and, oh yes, I have thrown my fair share of beached starfish back into the sea.

I do believe that the simple act of hugging an orphan who sadly lost his parents is transformative for that child. Studies show that children who grow up to be healthy, emotionally and physically, need a lot of human contact. While studies prove this, we know in our hearts that children who grow up to be whole need love, touch, smiles, and soft loving words from someone who cares.

I remember being in the dump area of Guatemala City holding a young boy who kept rubbing his face against my 3 day old stubble of a beard. His thin arms would grab around my neck tight whenever I tried to put him down. He did not cry like my own little one-year-old William does when I try to put him down. No — this boy had learned, sadly, that tears and crying are not addressed in the squalor of a slum.

Paul and smiling child.
Chairman Paul Sutherland and child.

Often when I hold one of my children, or see a parent gently hugging their child, I think about the millions of children who have no one to hug, smile at, kiss, or hold them. When my kids go to bed, I think of those with no one to read them a story, tell them a funny joke, smile softly and say, “I love you” as they kiss their cheeks and pull up the blanket.

Utopia Foundation’s mission is to help create a world where communities thrive and every child goes to bed feeling nourished, loved, happy and hopeful about tomorrow. Utopia Volunteers has one simple goal: to make expressing your good intentions easy. We take care of placing you where your skills can be used to make a difference in the lives of people.

I hope you will spend a little time on our website. Currently we have projects in five countries, and we don’t just place employee and school groups—we place many individuals too. If you volunteer and commit to humbly be useful to those who need your help, I can make one promise to you: you will make a difference, a real difference in the lives of those you hug, build, or cook for, read to, teach, heal, or play hide-and-seek with. I am so grateful you have read this letter, visited our site and are thinking of trusting Utopia Volunteers to help you express your good intentions. We believe that every one matters and every positive action is worthwhile. I hope you will join us.

Blessings,
Paul