The motto is “Empower One, sick Inspire Many!” Empowering young adults to inspire future generations is the mission of Spark of Life, viagra an empowerment organization for youth in the Richmond area. Founded by Tabatha M. W. Spurlock in 2008, Spark of Life’s mission is to empower and support youth, families and communities with programs and events that help build educational, personal and leadership development skills.
Spark of Life’s target audience is females between the ages of 8-12. However, they are open to helping young men as well. A very popular program in Richmond, Spark of Life has worked with approximately 70 children, primarily girls, in the past year.
“I felt like the kids needed a glimpse of what life could be like if they didn’t focus on their current circumstance,” Spurlock said. “We try to expose them to different cultural and life experiences so that they would know life beyond their own neighborhood.”
Tabatha Spurlock has said that she has always “just had a heart for giving back.” Prior to working with the Fulton Boys & Girls Club in 2002, Spurlock was always involved in the community working or volunteering despite her financial situation at home in Chester. “I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, but it didn’t stop my ambition to want more in life,” she said.
She says what really got her into community service was a woman named Irma Monroe. Spurlock had gotten accepted to work at a summer youth program when she was attending Thomas Dale High School in 1993. “When I was in high school, I worked at the YMCA for a summer youth program. There was a lady named Irma Monroe who was one of the leads for the summer youth program,” she said. The problem, however was that she didn’t have transportation to and from work due to her mother’s demanding work schedule as a single parent. She said Ms. Monroe saw this and offered her rides to and from work every day. This act of kindness really influenced Spurlock because it showed her what can happen to young people when adults actually reach out to them.
After meeting Irma Monroe, Spurlock reconnected with her in 2002 and began working as an employee at the Fulton Boys & Girls Club. Around 2003, Spurlock received a promotion as the program director for a new club, Providence Park (currently the Capital One unit). Shortly after, a private donor of the organization noticed that opportunities for young females were very limited. After making a significant financial contribution to the organization, he asked officials if they knew of a person who could lead his new operation to give more opportunities for young, African American women.
Spurlock was chosen as that leader to spearhead the operation. With only an idea and some funding, she designed the new program and called it “Sparkle of Life” because she wanted to give the girls a glimpse, or sparkle, of what life could be like in the future if they applied themselves academically, personally and professionally to every aspect of their life. The program started with about 15 young ladies who met with Spurlock frequently at the club for workshops. They also traveled throughout Richmond exploring the different colleges and universities, eating at nice restaurants, visiting businesses and attending church. Because of the success of this first year, the private donor made another financial contribution to the program so that it could continue for another year in 2004.
However, in late 2004 Spurlock earned her Master of Arts degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix. This led to another promotion in the Boys & Girls Club organization, which in turn led to the “Sparkle” program not surviving. She still kept in touch with each of the 15 girls, though. Many of them, such as Tynesha Ellis, had grown very close to Spurlock and looked at her as a mother figure.
“She shared her fortune with me and other girls. She was like my godmom. She used to pick me up, take me out and she never missed a birthday since I was 7 years old. I’m 20 now,” Ellis said. “Some girls don’t even get the opportunity to do certain things with their parents or in life, and she gave people the opportunity to do that.”
In 2005, Spurlock changed careers to go into education. Though she no longer worked at the Boys & Girls Club, she still kept in touch with each of the girls and their families. The parents of these young women said that they still desired her help with their daughters. Spurlock didn’t have the financial means anymore, but she still had the idea of a mentoring program to influence young women. In 2008, she started a sole proprietorship called Spark of Life. She changed the name from “sparkle” to “spark” because the girls used to mock the name.
She had her first workshop at a local library with four girls. It was funded primarily by the small registration fee she charged the parents. Spurlock said, after drafting some dedicated people to serve on her board of directors and operations team, Spark of Life became an official 501(c)3 charitable organization on April 12, 2010. Two members of that original team are still a part of the organization. Tamika Brown is currently serving as the program director and Katrina Mazyck is the marketing and public relations director.
Spark of Life has several programs to help young children of all ethnic groups to become leaders in their community. Whether it’s after school or leadership programs, Spark of Life ensures that students are getting the best out of their experience. Tynesha Ellis, one of the original 15 girls from the program in 2002, said the program had a major impact on her life.
“Some things I didn’t get at home, I got there. The love and affection I didn’t get at home, I got from her (Spurlock),” Ellis said.
The S.P.A.R.K Girls program is an after school initiative. According to Spurlock, a S.P.A.R.K girl is one who is smart, positive, and remarkable. She is smart because she takes care of business in and out of the classroom making sure her academics are a priority by setting short and long-term goals. She is positive because she does not have time for negativity, Spurlock says. If she can’t add a positive perspective to a situation she walks away. She is remarkable because she stands out in a crowd unintentionally through her sophisticated, friendly and outgoing demeanor.
The S.P.A.R.K Girls program has had a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Richmond organization since 2008. They have provided free services to young ladies at the Southside, Southwood, and now the Falling Creek Middle School locations. The target audience for this program is females between the ages of 8 and 12. The girls and Spurlock meet once a month for at least an hour. Annually, Spurlock said, there have been 15-25 participants in the program.
The focus of the program is to “P.A.C.E. leadership” with participants in the areas of Personal development, Academic enrichment, Character Education and leadership development. The school year begins with a review of the basics such as character development, goal setting and organizational skills. Spurlock said that as the school year progresses, they transition into etiquette, fitness, teambuilding and personal hygiene lessons.
The end of the year celebration is one in which family, friends, teachers and school administrators are invited to see the girls receive confirmation of their leadership. The girls receive a polo shirt, gift bag and certificate. She shares with the audience brief reflections about her experience in the program and how it has affected her life. Tynesha Ellis, a former S.P.A.R.K girl, is a testimony to how Spark of Life changes young women’s lives.
“I can honestly say that this path has led me in the right direction. You don’t see me smoking, I don’t drink, I have my own place, I’m about to get my degree. To be honest, I owe it all to her,” Ellis said. “She (Spurlock) made sure I was in a positive direction.”
SPARK Girls Retreat
Each July Spark of Life hosts an annual, overnight retreat for young women between 8-18 years old. This is the signature program and fundraiser for Spark of Life. The funds raised during this cover all the year-round initiatives. From 9 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. Saturday, the S.P.A.R.K girls are engaged in fun, enrichment, educational and personal development workshops and activities.
For the past five years, registration has capped at 50 participants. The $25 fee for the night includes a full dinner, a variety of workshops with professional guest speakers and groups in the Richmond area, plenty of snacks, drinks, continental breakfast, and a goodie bag. Donors of the program provide snacks, drinks and breakfast items for the event. Community partners who help each year with the program include: the Virginia Titans semi-professional cheerleaders, Natalie Smith and her Soul Purpose team, inspiring young leader Niasia Ellis (honorary SPARK Girl), Melody Pannell (motivational speaker), Martin’s, Sam’s Club, and Goldman Sachs.
Spurlock has made it clear that Spark of Life does not turn away any participant who cannot afford the registration fee. The event is open to females of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. If a parent feels that their child can benefit from their services, Spark of Life finds a way to secure a spot for that child.
Random Acts of Kindness
As part of making the girls more community oriented, Spurlock and Spark of Life have made sure the girls know the benefits of being a S.P.A.R.K girl. She says the program has provided clothing and school supplies to the girls. They have sponsored families during Christmas by giving gift and food donations through the Santa’s Helpers initiative. Spurlock added that Spark of Life has also supported parents with graduation outfits at the end of the school year. Most importantly, they have shopped for groceries and provided toiletries and gifts to less fortunate attendees at the annual Thanksgiving Feast event sponsored by The Giving Heart organization at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
Looking to the Future
The vision at Spark of Life is to have children and young adults go through the program, have a positive experience and leave with a “pay it forward” attitude. Spurlock said that the young men and women who go through the program know that they can make a difference. They too, at an early age, can change their communities. They can be a positive influence on others.
“As an educator, I try my best to save everyone. Sometimes, it may be impossible, but we know that there’s at least one person that’s going to get it one hundred percent and we’ve seen it,” she said. “They’ll then take the information that they’ve learned from our workshop or activities and share it with others. So although we may only be impacting a small group of individuals, whether male or female, we know that they’re sharing the message with others.”
A perfect example of that is Tynesha Ellis, who spreads the word at the Boys & Girls Club Capitol One unit on the Northside and her job at Forever XXI in Regency Mall. Ellis said she is very thankful for what Spark of Life has done for her and wants to share that experience with others.
“Certain people don’t get the same affection and love that they’re supposed to get at home. So when you have somebody else willing to give that out without paying or just trying to do it for publicity, it’s a blessing,” Ellis said. “She’s blessed and I thank her for everything she’s done for me.”
In the next three to five years, Spurlock said she wants Spark of Life to transition from a volunteer-based organization to an area-wide program within local schools and youth development centers. “We’d love to partner with local school districts and work with their after school programs. If we can do some programming during the day, that would be great too.”