Spark Ventures Partnership Trips: Travel with an Innovative Chicago Nonprofit

Here at Chicago Non-Profit, we recognize and appreciate the benefits of sustainable philanthropy; a one-time donation should provide more than-time benefit.  This week, we’re proud to lend the reins of our blog to our guest authors from Spark Ventures.

Spark Ventures partners with grassroots organizations serving children in developing countries. We strengthen and sustain partners by providing human resources, strategic guidance and financial capital. Together Spark and its partners launch businesses, whose profits ensure meaningful impact for children and their communities for generations to come.

The activity that has been an important part of our work from day one is our series of Partnership Trips.  These trips offer an unparalleled international volunteer opportunity to visit our partner organizations around the world. This unique journey allows participants to join in cultural experiences, form new friendships, and learn more about our work, and bond with the children that we support.

Spark recently launched a new partnership with Las Tías in Nicaragua. Las Tías provide educational and nutritional programming, as well as vocational training to children living in underserved, rural areas. We just returned from our first Partnership Trip to Nicaragua and we are thrilled to say that it was a huge success. Spark CEO Rich Johnson describes his experience interacting with the children of Las Tías in compelling detail here.

Interested in traveling with Spark on one of our next Partnership Trips? Join us in Zambia this July to meet the incredible staff and children of our partner organization, Hope Ministries. Learn about and take part in the great work being done for the children of Ndola while experiencing the beauty and culture of Zambia (incuding a trip to Victoria Falls and a one day safari). Or join us in Nicaragua this October to meet the hard working staff and children of Las Tías. Contact Spark’s Program Manager, Stephanie with any questions.

Not ready to get on a plane? For now, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, connect with us on LinkedIn and follow along with our adventures on our blog!

Creative Go-Round: An All Win Program

A common problem nonprofit agencies face is their inability to reach their target audiences.  While often innovative in their development of and devotion to their mission and values, they often simply lack the resources and manpower to mobilize the correct kind of communicative campaign.  Because nonprofits tend to rely heavily on support from community members and donors, the importance of effectively reaching out to them is of even greater importance.


The brainchild of Executive Director Christopher Gerke, Creative Go-Round (CGR) is a nonprofit design firm working to help other nonprofit organizations in the Chicagoland area.  Located on the Chicago River just north of downtown, CGR offers industry-standard technology and facilities that enable our creative team with the tools and space to ideate, create and produce deliverables for our clients. For more than four years, our designers have come in from local design schools to create social change within their community and gain valuable knowledge, skills and experience.


Currently, CGR is accepting applications for new nonprofit clients that are in need of design and/or communications services. These new nonprofit clients will receive the benefits of a fully functional design firm without the high cost of other for-profit firms.


CGR is accepting new client interviews June 10-21 on a first come, first served basis. Meetings are set up in two-hour blocks, and will be conducted at the CGR office. This will be the last interview session held until fall, and all communication and design work will be completed during the summer and fall terms.


Whether you are a nonprofit looking for services, or if you know of a great organization that could benefit from CGR’s design studio, please spread the word about this outstanding nonprofit firm. Nonprofit clients interested in design services can apply on the CGR website (

Child’s Voice: Enabling Hearing Impaired Children to Succeed

Like many things that don’t affect the majority of us, it’s difficult to comprehend the difficulties that arise from the inability or difficulty in hearing.  Without the ability to hear, we could not experience music, the sound of our friends’ families’ voices, or get out of the way of an on-coming bus.  Most importantly, without the ability to hear, we would not have confidence in our primary means of self-expression: speech.  Children born with a limited or nonexistence capacity to hear miss-out on that basic developmental necessity.  At Child’s Voice, hearing impaired children are enabled to do what would otherwise be nearly impossible: perform up to their greatest potential in every social and education scenario by “optimizing their listing, speaking and academic skills.”

Founded in 1996 by three families, Child’s Voice had meager beginnings.  From their first class of six children in Elmhurst, IL, to helping over one hundred families in the 2011-12 school-year, it remains “the premier listening and spoken language program in the Chicago area that provides full services to students and their families.”   During the sixteen interim years, Child’s Voice has made a slew of improvements to their organization and techniques to stay on the cutting edge of their industry.

The first students to have gotten through the school’s program, which caters to families with children as young as infancy and through age eight, recently graduated college.  For those who have been there from the beginning, that marks an important milestone; the live of those students has been dramatically and directly improved by Child’s Voice.  For newer members of this consistently growing community, it’s reassurance that their time and effort is for not for naught.

And there is plenty of effort, by the way.  A look at the events page gives a bare idea of how much time it takes to participate; one can imagine the organization it takes to arrange such an involved schedule.  For those of us who are busy with other projects at the moment, there’s a way to contribute, have a good time, and catch a better glimpse of this phenomenal organization Child’s Voice’s annual golf tournament is coming up in June, on the eighth.  This year they’ve decided to move the venue westward to Crest Creek Country Club in Naperville.  Complete with all of the standard golf tournament events and prizes—longest drive, closest to the pin, a silent auction, lunch and dinner—it’s one of Child’s Voice’s major fundraisers for the year, and also one of their most fun.  So when you head down the fairway and deep into the woods where you ball is, or as you inspect the ground by the drop-zone next to the water hazard (if you’re anything like me, that is), take solace in the fact that your frustration supports a more than worthy cause.  Who knows, it might even help your game.

Child’s Play Touring Theatre: Nurture the Inner Spark

When I was in fourth grade, my teachers’ favorite thing to talk about was “that spark” inside all of us.  “Never lose that spark,” she would say, “because once you do it’s hard to get it back.”    But it wasn’t until I met someone whose spark seemed to burn so brightly that I felt pale by comparison that I finally knew what she meant.  Every once in a while I meet another person like that, and appreciate them.  In speaking with June Podagrosi, who co-founded Child’s Play Touring Theatre in 1978 with her late husband, there was ample opportunity to appreciate an undiminished spark.  Child’s Play is the vehicle through which she shares it.

The idea behind Child’s Play is to help children discover and nurture their spark.  In order to do this, they combine “the important, imaginative writings of children with the craftsmanship of professional theatre artists and educators.”  A staggering four million people have been impacted through the various Child’s Play educational programs and productions, and more than 16,000 young writers have had their works performed.

Currently, Child’s Play’s is working on pulling together their annual gala for 2013.  On June 13th, beginning at 5:30 with hors d’oeuvres and drinks, the night promises to be a thoroughly entertaining and educational one.  There will be a silent auction and special performance catered for maximum audience participation.

Child’s Play prestigious Victor award will also be given out.  Past recipients include actor/composer/producer Jeff Richmond of 30 Rock, and Marj Halperin.  This year’s recipients will be the award winning composer/lyricist/cabaret artist George Howe, and the Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez.  They were chosen for their past year’s work which is in conjunction with the gala’s theme this year: “Think. Write. Act. PEACE.”

The event is always good for the organization, according to June, but more importantly, she emphasized, “It’s just a really fun time.”  Tickets are on sale, or you can go and volunteer for part of the event, and enjoy the rest of the night at your leisure.  Tuesday nights leading up to the 13th, are when volunteers are getting together to organize.

Whether to get involved or just enjoy a night out, be sure to mark Child’s Play Touring Theatre’s annual Gala on the calendar for June 13th, and share in spreading the spark.

Urban Gateways: Art for All

We’ve all heard it a hundred times before, especially of late here in Chicago: “Further funding cuts to the arts in public schools,” or “Due to lack of funding, instead of five times a week, so-and-so junior high will now have two required art or arts related classes per week.”  And always, math, science and reading retain their positions as the most important aspects of education today.  Let’s face it, in terms of concrete skills for future use in industry and business, math and science represent the requisites.  But without creative thinkers, concrete skills are limited by those that wield them; without individuals who can see beauty in their surroundings, find happiness, and glean confidence from it, those skills do not make the world a better place.  One of Chicago’s most stalwart advocates for education in the arts is, and has been for more than fifty years, is Urban Gateways: Center for Arts Education.

Their approach is simple: “Art for all.”  To them that means, as Brian Foster , Director Of Marketing for Urban Gateways said, “The three E’s: Every Art, Every Child, Every Day.”  By deploying their talent in a variety of ways, Urban Gateways hopes to awaken the creative impulse within as many students as possible, and compel them to follow it toward productive ends.

One way artists connect with students is through residencies.  Residencies can last anywhere from six weeks to a year.  During a residency, an artist of almost any variety imaginable visits a school, and conducts hands-on activities within their realm of expertise.  All of the artists are also trained and experienced educators whose curricula are in accordance with Illinois state regulations.  Plus kids love an exciting change in their routine.

Other avenues Urban Gateways employ include Touring Performances, Workshops, and Professional development.

Touring Performances can include dance or theatre troupes, and musical ensembles from an incredible number of different backgrounds and disciplines.  The wide variety and high level of artistic expertise offers a fascination experience for virtually any audience.

Another intriguing way that Urban Gateways engages the arts is through Workshops.  There are two kinds: Family and Community; and Student Immersion.  Family and Community workshops enable children to learn through the arts alongside their adults.  Programs cater specifically to that kind of pairing.  Student Immersion workshops are what they sound like; students spend the entirety of the workshop with artists, exploring their craft and the world around them.  Workshops are between one and four sessions, for Family and Community, and one to three days for Student Immersion.

The final avenue that Urban Gateways employs to foster arts education and education through arts is through Professional Development.  An Illinois State Board of Education Approved provider of professional development, Urban Gateways offers teachers a change of pace in acquiring some of their required Continuing Professional Development Units (CPDU’s), and a worthwhile way to improve their outlook on educating their students.

Urban Gateways believes in the continued exploration of art and that there is no end to what we can learn from it.  Join Urban Gateways in fostering that notion, and help make the world a better place.

The Axelson Center Symposium: Connecting Nonprofits to Critical Resources

North Park University has been a mainstay for education in management for more than 100 years in the Midwest, and has been duly recognized by publications such as U.S. News and World Report.  One reason the school is so successful is its breakdown of appropriate management practices under specific circumstances.

For example, the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management, within North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management, focuses solely on educating nonprofit leaders.  It “offers a variety of programs for professionals who work, volunteer or are transitioning into the nonprofit sector.”  The Axelson Center’s leaders understand that nonprofit staff and volunteers need skills that are different from those who serve in for-profit organizations.  One of its most accessible programs—an excellent resource for anyone working in a nonprofit—is the Axelson Center Symposium for Nonprofit Professionals and Volunteers.  The theme of the 14th Annual Symposium is “The Engagement Effect.”Links to Event Page

The symposium begins Monday, June 3, 2013, at 9 a.m. with preconference keynote speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Trocolli Boris, director, Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, The Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.. The title of her talk is “Trends in Nonprofit Finance: Changing Revenue Streams.”  Troccolli will discuss how changes in revenue streams of nonprofits are impacting the future of the sector.  Three talks to follow will address other important aspects of nonprofit revenue.  The day concludes at a 4:15 p.m. networking event, where participants will have the opportunity to meet speakers and each other.

The second day begins at 8 a.m., with a networking breakfast. After that, founders of six successful Chicago-area nonprofits tell the stories of their organizations in a fast-paced 75-minute session, “Founders Fired-Up.”  The rest of the day is structured around a series of breakout sessions.  Each attendee will have the opportunity to participate in three 60-minute sessions.

During the registration process, participants can choose from one of seven specially tailored tracks, each of which focuses on different aspects of nonprofit engagement.  A luncheon will be served at noon, with awards and recognition given to nonprofits that have demonstrated outstanding managerial excellence.  To close the day, the final keynote speaker, Shirley Sagawa, J.D., co-founder of Sagawa/Jospin Consulting Firm, Chevy Chase, Md., will speak on “The Charismatic Organization.”  A copy of this year’s conference brochure, with a schedule of events, and descriptions of breakout sessions is on the Axelson Center website.

Nowhere else in the Midwest is there an opportunity like the Symposium.  The combination of expertise and camaraderie among the more than 500 fellow attendees is something that you won’t want to miss!

Combating Psychopaths: the World’s Most Frightening Liars

Psychopath.  Now there’s a word that gets tossed out pretty often.  As in, “Hey! Gimme’ back my frisbee, you psychopath!” or “Yeah, I was lucky to get dumped when I did; my ex was such a psychopath,” or, in passing, as a generically cruel remark, “Ugh, what a psycho!”  As it turns out, the usage of the word that’s vaguely synonymous with “crazy” is, well, wrong.  The Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation (Aftermath) is a non-profit organization dedicated to informing people like most  of us (who know basically nothing about social disorders) about what it actually means, but the scope of their purpose, mission and goals are, necessarily, much broader than that.

On their homepage they say that their “ultimate goal is to reduce the negative impact of psychopathy on the families and victims of psychopathic individuals.”  To the lay person, that statement raises a lot of difficult questions.  Understanding what psychopathy is, and knowing some of how it affects people, it’s much easier to understand why it’s so important for an organization like Aftermath to exist.

Between perusing their website and the compelling conversation we had with Aftermath’s president, Dr. David Kosson, Chicago Non-Profit got a fascinating crash-course on what psychopathy is, the impact it has on individuals and society, and how the “Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation” works toward achieving its whole mission.

What is it?

On their website, the experts at Aftermath give a brief synopsis that I won’t try to improve upon.  Its brevity is relative, though, and the language is dense, which clues readers in on the complexity of the disorder.  It’s under the right-hand column on their homepage where it asks “What is Psychopathy?”

Now I’m not a genius, but I’m no dummy either, and I have no problem admitting that this definition caused me to sit back and scratch my chin.  When I spoke with Dr. Kosson, I told him that some of this just doesn’t make sense to me.  How could someone lie, be promiscuous, arrogant, have no self control etc, be that way to a long string of people, feel no remorse for it, and do it in a way so that nobody catches on?  “That’s the scary part,” he said.   They’ve had a lifetime to practice deceiving people; they’re usually very good at it.

To better understand the disorder, Doctor Kosson recommends a visit to the “Resources for Victims” page.  There readers can find professionally written papers meant to be understood by lay-people.  The most initially informative is the bottom one, “A Primer on Psychopathy.”

A more in depth knowledge of the disorder lends a lot of significance to what Aftermath is trying do, and the way they’re doing it.  Primarily, says Dr. Kosson, they educate the general public through the links afore mentioned on their website.  Professionals, though, they educate through workshops.  These workshops are populated by groups of professionals who, once educated, will be better able to protect potential victims from harm.  For instance, they held a workshop for court professionals whose responsibility it is to decide how parents in a divorced couple should split custody of their children—or not.  If that person is not trained to recognize psychopathic tendencies—and they’re usually not required to be—then a parent with psychopathic features will likely be able to take advantage of the situation and gain custody.  Other groups include clergy, leaders of addiction support groups, and employers at senior living facilities.

The ways that psychopaths negatively impact the people and world around them are legion.  Through education, prevention, and treatment, Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation will help to reduce and repair the effects of those negative impacts.

Invaluable Knowledge: Nonprofit Quickbooks Aficionado Visits Chicago

It’s that time of year again, year end for most.  Businesses and nonprofits are preparing everything needed. People are scrambling to file their returns, find their receipts, eek out one last deduction.  For the non-profit sector, tax season means all of that, plus more.

As if normal year-end processes weren’t confusing enough, nonprofits have a completely different way of functioning compared to businesses.  Also, whenever nonprofits receive grants or other large donations, it doesn’t just go into the coffers for at will use; there is an entire other section of reports that document exactly how grant money is spent called “reports to grantors.”  There is another report to record what was spent by specific programs.  The list goes on.

Moreover, it’s not as if most nonprofits have the extra cash lying around to pay professionals to keep up with their book keeping.   Because of the scarcity of both funding and expertise, nonprofits will only complete the bare minimum, take far longer than necessary to complete year-end processes, and miss potential deductions all along the way.

Of course there are tools out there to help like: Quicken, QuickBooks, Turbo-Tax, etc. But even then, without knowing all of the tricks and short-cuts, it’s difficult to do a good job; it’s like only knowing how to use the can-opener and the nail-file on a fourteen piece Swiss-army knife.

There are some seminars and online tutorials available to help nonprofits learn the correct way to set up their books, but almost none of them cater specifically to nonprofits, and some programs aren’t even equipped to accommodate all of the special requirements that non-profits have to fulfill.  It is, as usual, an uphill battle for nonprofits.

All of this is according to Gregg Bossen.  Apart from being a “normal” CPA for nonprofits, contractors, and general businesses for over twenty years, he is also the author of QuickBooks Made Easy, a comprehensive collection of industry specific training tutorials he developed in conjunction with Intuit, the creators of QuickBooks, to educate people with industry specificity, and virtually none of the overflow that comes from trying to teach all people all at once.

Currently, in conjunction with the industry specific tutorials, Gregg teaches seminars around the country.  Gregg has taught more than 1,000 seminars around the country since the year 2000  reaching out to more than 30,000 people, which suggests what we found out first hand in meeting Gregg: you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more engaging and charismatic, but especially when discussing what he knows best: nonprofits and QuickBooks.

Lately, with the understanding that the group with the toughest racket has the smallest amount of reference materials available, Gregg is focused on sharing his expertise with nonprofit professionals.  On April 17 of this year, he will be traveling to Chicago to give a seminar that outlines exactly what non-profits need to know on how to manage their book keeping with QuickBooks.  That night, he flies to Pittsburgh for a seminar on the 18th.  In May, he’ll make a similar weekend tour in Texas, specifically San Antonio on the 14th, and Houston on the 15th.

Each seminar is available in two parts: Part 1: The Essentials, Part 2: Beyond the Essentials, or All Day Both Sessions.  The Essentials begin at 9:00 A.M. local time and last until 1:00.  There’s a half-hour lunch break (lunch is included), and then at 1:30 Beyond the Essentials begins, and goes until 4:30.  The all day cost for the first member from any organization is $99.00 (ninety-nine dollars).  For anyone from the organization after the first person, the cost is reduced to $69.00 (sixty-nine dollars).  For those nonprofits and individuals who are serious about improving their book keeping skills, and records as a whole, no better opportunity exists to learn from one of the industry’s foremost experts on the subject: Gregg Bossen, from QuickBooks Made Easy.

For the Love of Family: Part 3 – Rites and Rituals

Growing up with Tony brought with it a ritual for Friday nights at his house. Whenever possible, I was spending the night over there for pizza and staying up as late as possible to play Nintendo. Of course, the sleep cycle was often broken for a quick raid of the kitchen or a few toilet paper parties from time to time.

Often times Tony’s aunts, uncles and cousins would stop by for a visit on these nights. It seemed that an atmosphere of love and family was always present. This was the environment that followed the family wherever they were together – to ballgames, parks, and the hospital where Tony & Leah stayed with Libby while she fought for her life.

Up until this point in our lives, there was no experience that Tony or I were not able to share together. Dating, driving, graduations and weddings – all of these experiences are things Tony and I have shared together and could compare notes as we checked off yet another rite of passage. This list is virtually endless and I’ve been blessed with a consistent friend through them all. However, the experience of holding onto your child while she fights for her life is something that I cannot share with Tony. I felt helpless as I could only sit and watch as Tony and Leah seemed to wade out into dark and uncertain waters on a starless night. I could only pray that when they returned – if they returned – I would still be able to recognize my friend.

Though they were confined to the hospital for a time, the influence and support Tony and Leah gained was tremendous as we rallied around Libby. What was so impressive to witness was the growth of their spirit throughout this period. At a time when you would think people would retreat – their spirit of giving and love enveloped those who became aware of the situation. Tony and Leah not only identified needs for families who were also spending long hours at the hospital – they took action. There was an apparent lack of comforts such as movies to watch or games to play so Tony and Leah raised money to purchase these items and donate them to the hospital (this continues to this day through a nonprofit they recently founded). One way they did this was dovetailing off the popularity of the yellow “Livestrong” bracelets by designing a white bracelet with the word “Libstrong” in yellow. In addition, Leah took to blogging through the hospital’s CarePages site to keep everyone informed of Libby’s progress. The spirit and attitude Tony and Leah displayed throughout this ordeal was truly amazing.

Eventually, Tony and Leah did emerge from those waters together. And after almost 3 years of treatment, countless prayers, and the loss of friends whose children did not survive their battles, Libby defied all odds and is alive and cancer-free today.

Friday night pizzas are still celebrated at my second home. While Tony and I don’t often find time to stay up and play Nintendo, we do manage to reminisce and laugh about the times we have had together. Watching our own children grow and sharing in their rites of passage reminds us how blessed we were to have had an environment that fostered love and provided laughter. It is this environment that sustained Libby’s life.

This environment is what I believe we as human beings are meant to experience. We have a fundamental desire to love and to laugh – to be able to share joy and sorrow openly. When this is not present, there are those of us who, like Tony and his family, take action to create that environment for others no matter what they personally may be experiencing. Truly, the perseverance they display is what makes this family so incredible.

This story is not over, however. Two things remain consistent in this family – love and a fighting for life. As I stated in my previous post, the genetics in Tony’s family have an affinity for attacking vision. This attack threatened the life of Tony and then his daughter – but theirs are not the only lives for which this family has fought.

For the Love of Family: Part 2 – Silver Beemer at Christmas

The genetics in Tony’s family have an affinity for attacking vision. In 2005, Tony and his beautiful wife Leah gave birth to Elizabeth (Libby). Because of Tony’s history the doctors screened and discovered that Libby, too had her dad’s form of cancer. The doctors were very confident, however, that they would be able to treat and eliminate the cancer without sacrificing Libby’s sight. A treatment plan was put in place and Libby started her battle with cancer at less than 3 months of age. Her genetics may have brought on her cancer, but they also brought on a strength and will to beating cancer. Just like her dad, Libby was going to win this fight.

Heading into their first Christmas season together as a family that year, Libby was just over 8 months old. Leah had begun a blog to update all of us as to Libby’s progress and we all rejoiced as the tumors seemed to be shrinking with the treatment. If you were to ask a Magic 8 Ball the question, “Will Libby’s cancer soon be gone?” it would have responded, “All signs point to yes.” A new family, a new child, and great hope that she would beat this cancer gave the whole family plenty of reasons to celebrate that Christmas.

Then came a silver BMW.

This is not the conclusion you might have jumped to – there was no car accident. This car was driven by the doctor that came to visit Tony and Leah at home. Just a few days prior, Libby had a new scan of her brain to check the size of the tumor behind her eye. Another routine scan to confirm that the tumor was shrinking. Tony and Leah were feeling confident that everything was going according to plan – the cancer was going away, Libby would soon be healthy. Life would soon go on without the trips to the hospital.

This time what the scan revealed, however, warranted a home visit.

Leah spotted the silver BMW as it approach their house. The car was a bit out-of-place in the modest middle-class neighborhood of Grandville, so it tended to stick out. When the man emerged Leah recognized the doctor. Her heart dropped into her stomach. This can’t be good.

As he entered their home, Leah and Tony held each other, waiting for the news. “We found a new tumor in Libby’s brain” said the doctor as soft yet as clear as possible. The news was delivered in the way that you knew he was trying to be as honest yet as compassionate as possible. This new discovery meant Libby had tri-lateral retinal blastoma, a diagnoses that is found in an average of only 6 children in the U.S. each year. Out of those 6, fewer than 1 survive. Libby was given about a 2% chance to be that 1.

Tony and Leah, their family (which, by now, included an extensive network of friends and supporters), were sent reeling with the news. We all had been experiencing a growing relief as Libby seemed to be responding well to the regiment of treatment thus far. This news had erased all of that. Instead of the game being nearly over, the opposing team just gained all of the momentum – and it wasn’t even halftime.

Instead of looking ahead, that Christmas was about celebrating the life we all had at present, for however much longer it would be. We all prayed it would not be our last with Libby.

As the context of the moment settled in, I began to recognize and experience true gratitude. Trips to ball games, dinner with family, laughter with people who love. This was the environment that I grew up in with Tony’s family. This landscape was now a field of battle upon which Libby’s cancer encroached. We were all anxious to fight.