November 2, 2015  /   apprenticeship

Celebrating 10 years of mentorships and planning for many more

A message from Spark’s CEO, Jason Cascarino. 
Throughout my time with Sparkfirst as a supporter and donor, and now as CEO and a former mentor – it has been a truly amazing experience to watch Spark grow. Since its establishment in 2004 and its first program launch in 2005, Spark has demonstrated a trend of progress and growth to reach more students, engage more mentors and partner with more schools and companies nationwide. 
We began with a partnership with one school; we paired 11 students with mentors in Redwood City, CA. Today, we are partnered with nearly 30 schools. We are serving more than 1,000 students this year – our largest annual student cohort ever – which means we will have reached more than 4,500 students cumulatively by the end of our tenth year.
This service is only possible with the support of donors and funders who believe in Spark’s impact and value.  In 2005, Spark received its first gift of $10,000 from the Peninsula Community Foundation (now known as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation). In 2008, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation provided us with $300,000 to engage in our early development phase. And from 2007 to today, the Peery Foundation, Spark’s largest historical funder, provided $750,000, which was fundamental to our replicating across four major metropolitan regions.
To date, Spark has exceeded $3.5 million in funds raised from many great individual, foundation and corporate supporters. That momentum has lead to Spark most recently being awarded a slate of new and big funding commitments over the last 18 months from notable national funders, including $1.2 million from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to support the development and launch of our alumni programming that supports our students transition into high school; $650,000 from the Brin-Wojcicki Foundation for capacity-building, strategic planning and local program implementation; $240,000 from the All Points North Foundation for public policy work and our Spark Online Institute for teachers; and $100,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation for general operating support.
In just 10 years, we have not only grown, we have improved by tailoring our program to the needs of students and educators in the middle grades, as well as mentors. The institution of “Spark Skills” like teamwork, time management and goal setting helps students build capacities for success.  The development of Spark Online provides on-demand resources and training to mentors and educators. Data-sharing partnerships with school districts mean we can accurately measure our short- and long-term impact. Yet, I believe we have barely scratched the surface of what Spark can do for the thousands of students who can benefit from caring mentors, workplace apprenticeships and targeted skill-building.
This is only the beginning. While we expand our reach to record-setting numbers, this year we are also embarking on our next organizational strategic plan, mapping growth along with quality and sustainability. We imagine a time when mentoring and career exposure are part of the middle school experience for all students – so that young adults like Jonathan continue to feel that they get a, “head start in life.” And working professionals like Bruce continue to have the opportunity to give back during the workday and report that mentoring with Spark is, “one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve done in recent memory.”
Though these ideas are inspiring and motivating, we remember now – after 10 years of pairing students with mentors in engaging apprenticeships – that the work spearheaded by Spark’s talented staff everyday is all about helping today’s youth prepare for successful futures. 
Thank you for your support, and I’ll be eager for us together to continue this journey with Spark!

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