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Ahead of Giving Tuesday, Some Thoughts from our Executive Director

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 1:08 PM

One of the most significant challenges faced by any charitable organization is demonstrating the impact of donations.  My wish from the time One Spark came into being has always been that everyone could see first-hand the unbelievable determination, resilience, creativity, and talents of the women we work with.  My wish has been that people could know the incredible women we’ve come to know. To witness the journeys of women as they rebuild and forge futures from a place of hope would, without question, speak for itself.  I wouldn’t have to write a word to show the impact of the donations we receive.

Because this is simply not possible, I am going to tell you what I’ve come to know about how the support we receive can be life-changing.  When we meet women that are being introduced to One Spark for the first time, we are connected to a unique story every time.  Some women have lived through months, years – perhaps decades – of abuse and violence.  All are facing poverty.  As one woman said to me, "You almost always have to walk through some form of poverty or lack of resources to escape abuse.”

But, the real commonality that every single woman I have worked with at One Spark has demonstrated is an unwavering commitment to moving forward: to forging a way to economic security.  It takes seven weeks to go through the full One Spark program, and women show up, engage, write business plans, register businesses, participate in training, and look ahead with determination every time.  They do it without fail.  We have worked with women that have started landscaping businesses, consulting businesses, home d├ęcor and self-care products businesses, cleaning businesses.  We have worked with a woman who invented a product and published a book.  We are so honoured to be able to provide the forum to bridge their experiences from living with violence/in poverty to owning income-generating businesses.  Providing the opportunity to live that transition is what your donations do.  You lift women up through possibility.

When I am speaking publicly, one of the questions I often field is how we raise our money.  We do not receive any government funding.  We are 100% reliant on the generosity of people: it is only because people reach into their pockets and so kindly give to One Spark that we can do our work.

Therefore, as we begin to celebrate the joy of the holidays – a time of year that can also powerfully remind us of income inequities and those struggling with poverty – I am asking you to please consider helping us to continue to do our work and reach even more women in 2017.  You can make a donation of any amount at https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/one-spark/ (or through the button at the bottom of the page).

On behalf of the women we work with, I thank you in advance for any support you can offer and I leave you with words written by Nancy, a client who offered to share her One Spark experience to help make opportunities available to other women:

"What I would like to say is that for the first time, I have had the greatest experience during this whole endeavor and none of it would be happening without One Spark. I have gained confidence, not only in myself, but as a women with substance that does have something to bring to the table. One Spark has listened to my idea's, even during the current struggles that I continue to have. They give me a direction and keep me on track as this has to be one of the hardest things to accomplish as an abused women, especially with children. The support from all of the experienced board members and all that they have to offer is supreme to say the least.

All the support that I have received could not be written in this letter as there is not enough words to explain. What needs to be said though is that even knowing the experience that the board members bring to the table along with Corrie Schneider's knowledge, none of this could happen without funding. As we all know, all the experience, all of the hard work, no matter the idea, can't be done without money or funding in any way.

I hope that you see the benefits in helping this wonderful and well needed Organization and all that it will do for our future as human beings.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you again.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!Corrie Schneider
One Spark Executive Director

A Letter to the St. Pat’s High School Football Coaches and Players

Thursday, October 6, 2016 10:27 AM


I want to begin by saying thank you.  I have worked in the field of violence against women for a while now and today was a first for me.  Today was the first time I witnessed action and advocacy on the issue of violence against women being initiated - and primarily championed - in a high school by the men in the school.  Wearing white in solidarity with our “MAVerick” campaign and ending violence against women and girls may have felt like a small action, but it felt revolutionary to me.

Each of you may have your own reason for having been part of today’s campaign.  I know many of your coaches are husbands and fathers.  Perhaps some of you have been personally impacted by violence, or know women and girls that have experienced violence.  To some of you, it may feel like a bit of an arm’s length issue: you might feel like it is something that happens to other people.  But we know statistically that violence against women touches every corner of our globe…and every corner of our communities.  The number is 1 in 3.  One in three women globally have experienced physical or sexual abuse.  That means that, in the course of your day, you may not know it, but you are almost certainly interacting with women and girls that are living with – or have experienced – violence.

The reason you may not be aware of the violence happening around you is that violence against women is an issue that is often shrouded in silence.  Women and girls may not talk about it for a number of reasons: perhaps their safety – or lives – are being threatened; perhaps they stay silent out of shame or fear of stigma.  By using your voices today, you have pro-actively shown your support and solidarity so that, even in the silence, women and girls are being acknowledged and heard.

I firmly believe that, if we are going to end violence against women, men like you must be engaged in meaningful ways.  And, so, I’ll end where I started: by thanking you for the incredible action you took today.

With gratitude and in solidarity,
Corrie Schneider
Executive Director, One Spark

One Spark Celebrates its Third Birthday

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 5:34 AM


As I sit down to write this blog and mark three incredible years of being part of One Spark’s mission in action, I am overcome with a sense of gratitude and peace.  I recognize that may seem counter-intuitive given both local and world events that have shocked and saddened all of us in recent months, but here’s what I’ve come to know: goodness, kindness, generosity and compassion live.  They live in abundance in people all around us.  I know this because I unfailingly see it every single day in my work with One Spark. 

As One Spark celebrates its third birthday, I want to pause and acknowledge the collective kindness and generosity that powers our work.  We have seen the most incredible generosity in our donors and supporters: your steadfast willingness to share what you have is truly the only reason One Spark’s work can happen.  And we have seen the most amazing, tireless hands at work through our volunteers: your skills, gifts and time are the foundation on which One Spark is built.  To all of the amazing people that breathe life into One Spark’s vision of ensuring no women faces financial barriers to living a life without violence, we are so thankful.

I’d like to especially take a moment to acknowledge our Board of Directors.  Jo-Anne, Marlo, Flavio, Howie, Lynden, Danielle, Lynn and Christina (and our amazing Board volunteer, Jo-Ann): I feel like I run short of words to describe your individual and collective impact.  The fearlessness, integrity and passion with which you have led a young – and ever-growing – organization is a true gift to the mission we are so diligently pursuing.  Thank you for being the critical core of this organization.

Our third year has been one of amazing growth and change.  Here are a few of our key highlights:

  • We are thrilled to be on track to have 20 women completed One Spark’s Entrepreneurship Program by the end of 2016.  We introduced group programming to great success this year, which has allowed us to reach more women simultaneously and to encourage natural support and business networking opportunities among the women participating.  We are looking forward to building on key learnings and outcomes in order to expand the group programming format in 2017.
  •  In June of this year, One Spark was honoured and grateful to be chosen to receive funding through the MasterCard Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Giving Campaign.  The funds we received have been critical in expanding the reach and impact of our Entrepreneurship Program and we want to acknowledge and thank the MasterCard Foundation for such a wonderful initiative.
  • Also in June of this year, we were thrilled to once again work with the amazing team at CCI Studios to launch One Spark’s “Be A Maverick” Campaign, encouraging men to speak out on the issue of violence against women.  CCI’s creative genius helped us bring to life an important and meaningful grassroots campaign started by the Original Maverick, Joe Palko. We are continuing to promote and expand the campaign to engage as many men as possible in using their voices to end violence.  Thank you to the always-fabulous team at CCI for being true partners in our work to end violence.  Check out the campaign at beamaverick.org.
  •  In September, 2015 we held our 2nd Annual Golf Tournament, which was a tremendous success and brought out a fabulous group of golfers and supporters.  We are incredibly excited to be holding our 2016 tournament in partnership with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.  This amazing partnership gives us an invaluable platform to share the work of One Spark and to expand our fundraising efforts.  We are so grateful to our Board member, Flavio Volpe, for highlighting our work to APMA members and fostering this partnership opportunity.  The tournament will be held on September 22, 2016 at Granite Ridge Golf Course: we’re hoping to see you there!  http://one-spark.ca/2016-golf-tournament
  •  2016 also marked the first year that the Women Moving Forward Conference was presented under the One Spark banner.  We are incredibly proud of and grateful for the partnership we have developed with the WMF Conference Committee.  It is an important opportunity for One Spark to be connected to an event that provides networking, learning and personal growth opportunities for women as well as to provide the women who attend the conference with exposure to One Spark programming: a perfect match for growing and expanding our mission and work.
  •  Over the past year, we have continued to develop our Professional Advisory Committee and to consider how professionals from a variety of key functional business areas can support the women entrepreneurs we are working with.  Our Professional Advisory Committee has been such a wealth of expertise and support and we look forward to fostering ongoing community support through this wonderful group.
  •  We are so grateful to have expanded our corporate support network over the past year, including being the beneficiaries of events and initiatives led by Energi PR and Thrive Fit.  Thank you to these amazing organizations for connecting our work to yours.
  • There were some truly wonderful community events that happened this year that were coordinated through our unfailingly wonderful and committed volunteer and advocate, Heather Lapier.  Over the past year, Heather organized a Karma Class at Inner Dawn Yoga and a contest through Handmade for you Love Lu for the benefit of One Spark.  We love the opportunity to highlight our work through innovative and creative channels like these: thank you, Heather!
  •  Finally, but not at all least, we have had the opportunity over the past year to connect with other partners and service providers in the community to consider how we can bring our respective work together to maximum impact.  We’ve made critical connections with organizations such as the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Women’s Rural Resource Centre in Strathroy.  We’ve also connected to an incredible network of business coaches that offer ongoing business development coaching and mentorship to the women that participate in One Spark’s Entrepreneurship Program.  We had the amazing opportunity over the course of this year to have Janice Gerol – the Vice President of International Business Operations for Pampered Chef – to provide an advisory/mentorship session.  Thank you to the community partners that work with us in the spirit of collaboration: the benefits of community connection are so critical to our work.
Every year, I am amazed when we find ourselves already marking another One Spark birthday.  And every year I close my eyes and say a silent thank you to the incredible people that make it happen.  Most importantly, I pause to acknowledge the courage, strength and fortitude demonstrated by the women we work with.  We look forward to another year of diligently working towards breaking down the financial barriers women face when moving forward from violence.  Thank you for being a critical part of that journey.

In gratitude and peace,
Corrie


The Story of #WhiteHoodieFriday

Friday, June 10, 2016 4:56 AM

Growing up in our house in Sarnia, everyone listened when my dad spoke.  My dad can have a big, booming voice and a very commanding presence.  You assumed he meant business with just about everything he said, but probably never so much so as when he reminded us of the first, and most unbreakable rule in the house: nobody was ever to hit our mother.

That was how the rule was phrased, “You NEVER hit your mother”.  And, to be sure, it was a literal rule.  Even if you were joking around and playfully pretended to give her a nudge or chuck to the arm, my dad’s laughter would turn to a glare I can see to this day.  That rule was never to be tested.  But, even as were instructed to take it literally, there was a not-so-subtle underlying philosophy to holding this rule as the central, most important, most oft-noted in the house: women are to be valued, respected, treated with dignity, and, when necessary, protected.

But, my dad also never saw the women and girls in our house as weak.  I’m vividly remembering coming downstairs one Christmas morning and finding two fully-loaded toolboxes under the Christmas tree for my sister and me.  And I can hear my dad’s words about that toolbox to this day: never become dependent on someone to do things for you.  You’re perfectly talented, skilled and capable of doing things yourself.

And so it didn’t surprise me at all when my dad announced last fall that he was going to wear a white hoodie every Friday to show his solidarity with the work of One Spark and to hold it as his personal sign that mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, co-workers are NEVER to be abused in any way.  People that have heard my dad does this, or seen him in his white sweatshirt, think its brilliant.  So, with his blessing, we adopted it as a signature campaign and asked our creative partners, CCI Studios, to bring it to life, which they beautifully did with our new #BeAMaverick campaign, which you can check out at beamaverick.org.

To be part of the campaign, all you have to do is wear a white sweatshirt on Friday as a sign of your intolerance of violence against women (and if you are feeling really inspired, make it a group or office event!).  If you don’t have a white sweatshirt, we are selling them with our Maverick logo on the sleeve:http://beamaverick.org/cart.  All of the proceeds will go to One Spark’s programs helping women to establish financial sustainability in order to move forward from their experiences with violence. To give visibility to the work of One Spark and your amazing Maverickness, post your white hoodie pics on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with the hashtags #BeAMaverick #WhiteHoodieFriday and #onespark.

The impact of men speaking out on violence against women is critical to meaningful change.  Please consider becoming an advocate of this campaign.  And please use your voice to uphold my dad’s ubreakable rule of zero tolerance of violence against women.

Peace,

Corrie
One Spark Executive Director

The Heart of One Spark: Our Volunteers

Monday, April 11, 2016 5:53 PM


The simple truth is that One Spark would not exist without the amazing people that lend us their wellspring of incredible gifts: gifts of time, of talent, of financial support, and of love for our vision of a world where no woman faces financial and economic barriers to living a life without violence.

Two and a half years ago, when One Spark came into being, those volunteers totaled seven.  Today, we are honoured and blessed to have an ever-growing host of volunteers that translate our vision into action.  Jo-Anne, Flavio, Marlo, Howie, Danielle, Lynn, Lynden and Rachel are at the forefront of our volunteer team as our inimitable Board of Directors.  To be sure, I include our other wonderful Jo-Ann in this group for her unbelievable willingness to volunteer to take minutes at all of our meetings.  To even begin to speak about this group is emotional and overwhelming to me, as they are a non-profit dream team in the depth of their generosity, thoughtfulness, knowledge, sincerity, and senses of humour.  They continue to breathe life, energy and joy into One Spark, and National Volunteer Week is a wonderful opportunity for me to say out loud that my gratitude for each of them runs incredibly deep.

In the same breath that I share my appreciation for our Board of Directors, I want to acknowledge Heather, another unfailing volunteer that has transitioned her previous Board role into an on-the-ground advocate role in which she has been an unwavering champion of One Spark's work and a voice that has engaged donors, supporters, mentors and community partners for the benefit of our work. She is a force that constantly amazes.

In a previous blog post I shared my thoughts about our Professional Advisory Committee and I want to say again that this group's insights and commitment to our work represent part of One Spark's evolution that we are so proud of and grateful for.  Thank you to our amazing committee members. Likewise, the incredible volunteers that plan and support our golf tournament are the heart and soul of an event that is integral to funding our work through the year. Thank you for making the golf tournament an annual highlight and an absolute joy to prepare for.  We are also grateful this year to be working with a spectacular group of women that plan and carry out the Women Moving Forward Conference.

While these represent our core volunteer groups, every day and in a million different ways One Spark is impacted by the goodness of the people that surround us and touch our work in immeasurable ways.  Volunteer energy is what powers our organization: generous hearts and hands fuel our capacity to carry out our mission. For that, I am sincerely and deeply grateful.

Corrie Schneider
One Spark Executive Director



My Heartbreak Over the Ghomeshi Verdict

Thursday, March 24, 2016 8:41 AM

I am heartbroken over the Jian Ghomeshi verdict.  There are countless pioneers, trailblazers, advocates, and allies of the violence against women movement that can explain the socio-political and legal implications far better than I can, but I feel its impact deeply.  For all of us that work with One Spark to ensure that women achieve financial independence, we do this work because there is no question that when women lack access or face barriers to resources, their vulnerability to violence is increased exponentially.  Likewise, when a legal system reacts with impunity to punching, choking, and otherwise abusing a woman, that system makes all women vulnerable.  When we treat victims of violence like they have only experienced a crime if they did and said the right thing before, during, and after it happened, that makes all women vulnerable.  When we send the message to survivors of physical and sexual violence that we will employ every legal means and loophole to tear you down before you may or may not see justice, that makes all women vulnerable.

Jian Ghomeshi did not say that he did not hurt women, nor that he did not enjoy it.  But, that wasn’t the issue.  The issue was the role of the women: did they collude, did they reveal all the details, did they lie, did they contact him after the fact…did they…did they…did they…

But, nobody denied he hit them and he choked them.  And nobody denied he held the balance of power while he was hitting and choking them.  Now, he’ll see another day to hit and choke again, as will others that know that the Ghomeshi defence can be their defence and that the complainants’ shame and humiliation can be their victim’s shame and humiliation.

As much as I love the “I believe you”/ "We believe you” hashtags, those of us that work in the violence against women field – and make it our daily mission to broadcast that message to survivors - tend to inherently start from a place of belief, compassion, and trust, so these campaigns and messages reiterate existing systems of support.  The fundamental challenge is to effectively address the flaws in our systems and power structures that critically exacerbate the vulnerability of women.  In time, I know the heartbreak of “not guilty” will translate into a strengthened resolve to make change: it will fuel the work of so many that understand that violence against women and the risk of violence against women are woven into our socio-economic and legal systems and the processes that support them.  And so our work marches on in the hope of a day when #webelieveyou is a systemic starting point and no longer a necessary rally cry for women impacted by violence and re-victimized by the very systems that are supposed to protect them.

With peace and hope,

Corrie Schneider

Executive Director, One Spark

An Amazing Meeting of the Minds: The One Spark Professional Advisory Committee

Saturday, March 5, 2016 11:13 AM

It’s been an incredible thing to watch One Spark, as a new organization, get its footing and become part of the fabric of the charitable sector.  One of the things I know for sure is that bringing the work of an organization to life can only happen if people are willing to put their hand up and say, “I will help you”.  We all know the adage that it takes a village to raise a child: it’s no less true about raising a non-profit organization.   We need a spectrum of skills, expertise, perspectives, viewpoints, and experiences to ensure our programs and services are on point and that we are serving women according to the highest possible standards.

To ensure we are providing exceptional programs to assist women to achieve financial independence through entrepreneurship, last year we asked community members to bring forward their unique skill sets and expertise to form the One Spark Professional Advisory Committee.  The role of the committee is twofold: 1) to assess programming and service delivery on an ongoing basis to ensure we are evaluating outcomes, addressing challenges, and dismantling barriers as much as possible; and 2) to serve as direct mentors, advisers, and support systems to women entrepreneurs who may benefit from individual members’ expertise.

What we could not have foretold was the amazing meeting of minds that emerged.  Serendipitously, a fantastically passionate and skilled group of individuals stepped forward to offer their expertise in areas such as legal compliance, new business development, communications, instructional design, and charitable programming and community development.  The most amazing thing about this group is not just that they lend their expertise to One Spark but that they enthusiastically ask the question, “What else can we do?” and before we can answer them, they offer, “Here’s what else I could do…”.  Our small but mighty group is a true micro example of what happens when people roll up their sleeves and commit to bringing their skills to the table.  I’m convinced that what will ultimately and always change things is the generous act of people saying, “Here’s what I can do: how can that be a useful resource for your mission?”.  Indeed, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens changing the world.

On behalf of One Spark, I want to thank the Professional Advisory Committee from the bottom of my heart.  The work of the committee is young and emerging, but the impact is already being felt in profound ways.  You are change-makers and we are so grateful to have you on the journey.

Corrie Schneider,
Executive Director