Nicole Banks has switched gears from working on one intractable problem to trying to help one that's only seemingly intractable.
Banks, a Dublin resident, was the guest speaker at the Oct. 16 meeting of Northland-area Block Watch coordinators. She was featured in an Aug. 7 story in The Columbus Dispatch after she and her son, Rohan Ghala, helped a homeless veteran they met on the Fourth of July in the parking lot of a grocery store in northwest Columbus.
Banks told the Block Watch representatives that after bringing friends and family together to help Vietnam veteran Jim Stewart acquire a used automobile and an apartment so he didn't have to live in the vehicle, she is moving the organization she created to assist him -- the Starfish Assignment -- in another direction.
A former Marine herself, Banks said she was also in the Military Police during her time in uniform, albeit in the relatively calm confines of the base in Okinawa, Japan.
She said she is in the process of turning the Starfish Assignment into a nonprofit and is concentrating on improving relations between police officers who patrol the streets of Columbus and the people who live on those streets.
"We don't focus on a specific type of need, instead allowing the officers to determine what those are," she said.
"One officer asked for sporting goods to hand out to kids on his patrol area and another asked us to help with a winter coat drive, telling us that he frequently sees kids in nothing more than a hoodie, no matter how cold it is.
"Officers help people out all the time, and it doesn't get on the news," Banks said, adding she knows of an instance where two cops paid for a hotel room so a woman had a place to stay after her husband had kicked her out.
Former Ohio State University instructor Arnon Reichers got to know Banks when Banks was working on her master of business administration degree and became involved in helping Stewart through Facebook.
The northwest Columbus resident said she's fully on board with the new duties for Starfish Assignment.
"The thing that I love lot about Starfish, we work through the police," Reichers said. "For all the bad publicity they get, they are really a help in the community. We can take on projects ... in the community that other charities aren't geared to do. Starfish will help almost anybody with almost anything, whether it's moral support or coats or you need a bed for your kid."
"Things that we take for granted in one area of town, they might not have in another," Banks said at the Block Watch gathering. "We know that we're not going to change the world ... but we can make a difference."
The name of the organization is derived from a fable about a youth walking on a beach throwing starfish that had washed ashore back into the ocean. When a man who observes this points out that there are too many starfish for these efforts to matter much, the boy picks up another, throws it into the water and replies, "I made a difference to that one."
Rohan, 11, said when his mom came up with the idea of transforming the Starfish Assignment into an organization that works with police officers, he took it upon himself to approach officers at the Columbus Jazz & Rib Fest to see if the concept appealed to them.
"They all thought it was a good idea," his mom said.
Although the Columbus Division of Police does not endorse charities or nonprofit organizations, officer Eric Smith, the liaison to one of the precincts in the Northland area, told the Block Watch coordinators that street cops "are very in favor of this."
More information is available at www.starfishassignment.org/ about.