Spreading STAR in Minnesota and Beyond

Donna MInter
Donna Minter, founder of the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute and master STAR trainer. Photo by Lindsey Kolb

It was supposed to have been a one-off deal – just a single, week-long STAR I training in Minneapolis, Minnesota, back in the summer of 2010. Donna Minter, the organizer, had caught the STAR bug over the previous two years while taking Level I and II trainings at EMU. She enrolled to expand her own skill set for dealing with the trauma she encountered in her work as a psychologist; upon returning home, she’d simply wanted to spread the word in her own community.

“STAR is so different from traditional trauma and psychological care continuing education, because it includes the concepts of restorative justice, peacemaking and conflict transformation,” says Minter. “From a professional perspective, I don’t know of any other program that’s tying those concepts together in the same way.”

With the help of her congregation, Faith Mennonite Church, Minter developed a PowerPoint presentation about STAR and “hit the pavement” to drum up interest in the training, for which she’d already reserved space at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. She pitched the program to dozens of groups, made a special effort to recruit participants from the city’s different ethnic and religious communities, and raised about $8,000 to fund the event and sponsor attendance for people who couldn’t afford the registration fees.

Minter’s hard work paid off. The training, led by STAR director Elaine Zook Barge, kicked off in June 2010, with a full roster of 25 people representing five ethnic groups and five religious traditions, ranging in age from 20-something to 60-plus. Afterwards, participants said they were particularly enthusiastic about the practical skills they’d acquired, enabling them to recognize and deal with trauma in their personal and professional lives. All in all, Minter deemed the training a big success, the culmination of months of hard work. She soon discovered she’d only just begun.

Participants immediately encouraged her to organize more STAR trainings. She started getting phone calls from strangers who’d heard about the event and wanted to know when the next training would be. Not wanting to stand in the way of the plan God apparently had in mind for her work, Minter doubled down in 2011 by planning two more STAR trainings and upped the ante again with three week-long STAR trainings in 2012.

After the first training, as it became clear that Minter’s STAR project was meeting a widespread need, she put together an advisory board and secured a small grant from Mennonite Church USA to fund subsequent programs. (Total fundraising for project support from a variety of sources is approaching $50,000 to date.) More recently, Minter founded the nonprofit Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, or MPLI – she acts as its executive director – to serve as the institutional home for the STAR trainings in Minnesota and an expanding body of related work, like a monthly peace and justice reading group and film screening. Already, licensing boards in Minnesota have designated the MPLI as a certified continuing education provider for a wide variety of social workers, counselors, teachers and medical professionals.

Since the start, it’s been a labor of love for Minter, who continues in her full-time psychology work. (Figuring out how to make the MPLI executive director position sustainable from a financial and career perspective is a goal she and her board are working toward, though.)

The original STAR training in Minneapolis has become six; 113 participants from 90 different organizations and a great diversity of personal and professional backgrounds have attended the sessions. Minter is one of eight EMU-certified STAR trainers.

In 2013, the MPLI will sponsor STAR trainings June 12-16, Sept. 16-20 and Oct. 11-13 & 26-27. Prior to its summer convention in Phoenix, Arizona, Mennonite Church USA has also invited MPLI to offer a STAR training in Phoenix, June 25-29. For more information on these trainings, contact Minter at or 612-377-4660, or visit