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April SparkNews: It’s about People

People in a community

Sometimes, it is all too easy to get caught up in the how of work that we forget the why. How do we identify the leverage points that will cause a systemic shift? How do we sustain change? These are important questions and they constitute the bulk of what we DO, but they don’t answer the WHY. Why do we engage in systems change work? At the end of the day, often the answer is: because of people. Because we want to make a meaningful difference that improves the lives of people in our communities. They are the heart of systems change, the reason behind it in the first place.

People in a communityAt Spark, we keep this focus by thinking through outcomes – the change we want to see in the world – and keeping these outcomes at the forefront of all of our work. For example, our work with Healthy Schools Collective Impact isn’t just to build a stronger system for school-based health and wellness in Colorado; it’s to better serve students and teachers, and to ultimately improve student outcomes. We have also developed a series of tools that help us keep this focus on people, such as the Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices and Tools for Integrating an Equity Lens toolkits, as well as other great resources such as this blog and brief on how advocates can use storytelling as a powerful tool for change. In addition, this newsletter includes a great new resource from Fourth Quadrant Partners on “emergent strategy”, which hinges on the idea of expanding agency – the capacity to act – to a greater number of players in a strategy, reminding us of the value of community in a strategy and the power of incorporating multiple insights to improve our work. This reminder of why we are here also drives us to identify ways outside of work to improve our communities through volunteerism, which is highlighted in a great blog this month by Laura Trent and Alison McCarthy, two project managers at Spark. Read more.

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Sparking Social Change

No More: Together we can end domestic violence and sexual assault

Rose Andom Center: one place, immeasurable hope

By Laura Trent, Esq. and Alison McCarthy, MSW

For many of Spark team members, their commitment to social change finds its way across their professional and personal life. For Laura Trent and Alison McCarthy, project managers at Spark, this commitment means volunteering for organizations that support survivors of interpersonal violence.  Laura is on the Board of The Rose Andom Center Young Professionals Council (YPC), supporting the development of The Rose Andom Center, which brings community organizations and government agencies together under one roof to provide for the needs of individuals and families affected by domestic violence. Alison is a hotline counselor for Denver-based sexual assault prevention and support center, The Blue Bench.

Blue Bench

April is both sexual assault awareness month and national volunteer month, so we wanted to take some time to bring attention to important issues and encourage you to find ways to “give back” or contribute meaningfully to your community by tapping into the issues you care most about.

The Issue

Interpersonal violence, especially violence against women, occurs at a staggering rate. In the US alone, conservative statistics estimate 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in her life. Every minute, twenty people are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner. Though these issues have garnered national attention in the past few years (see domestic violence and the NFL, the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign), there is much work left to be done to prevent this type of violence and to support the survivors who have been victimized.

Why We Volunteer

Alison: When I was figuring out what I wanted to do, career-wise, I thought a lot about the ways in which I could be a part of lasting, positive change for marginalized and oppressed populations. At the time, I was working as a legal advocate for domestic violence survivors and volunteering on a sexual assault hotline. As much as I loved that work and cared about my clients, I couldn’t shake the feeling that unless I worked to solve the systemic issues, there would always be another caller on the line or client in my office. So, I decided to pursue community social work to take on the large-scale policies, processes, cultural norms, and beliefs that hard people every day – that’s why I work at Spark, because that’s what I get to do every day. But it’s important to me not to forget that while I have the luxury of working at the 10,000 foot level on systemic change, there are real people who face tremendous hardship at the hands of those systems every day. It’s their voice and their stories I carry with me while I work, a reminder to keep going when the problem at hands feels too big and too complex to solve.

Laura: The concept of “giving-back” was never a concept for me growing up, in my home it was more of an expectation. However, my own relationship to philanthropy and how I perceive it was lacking in substance until I began to see the impact of singular actions between people. The interrelations among people and the social injustices I witnessed around me was, and still is, both weighty and often intimidating, but I find myself drawn more and more to this algorithm of society. This intrigue and passion led me to philanthropy, which literally means the love of humanity. My passion for philanthropy by happenstance led me to a unique opportunity with the Rose Andom Center, when I moved to Denver: a chance to help provide hope to those who simply need a new direction, which ultimately is hope, a change in direction, a new way. Similarly, in my work at Spark I get to see different directions implemented and adapted based on the paradigm encountered. The interweaving, inter-logging, and mixing of social responsibility across my professional and personal life invigorates my spirit and at the end of the day “the world will not be saved by the internet, but by the human spirit.” – Dr. Sherwin Nuland


No More: Together we can end domestic violence and sexual assault