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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 hit, or in fact, to be abused in any way.  People that have heard my dad does this, or seen him in his white hoodie, 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 hoodie 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 hoodie, 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

Why Would We Do This?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 10:07 AM



Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a room full of big-hearted golfers at our annual One Spark golf tournament.  The message I most wanted to convey is why the issue of violence against women - and working to end it -  is so important.  The reasons translate into why my sister and I will run 42.2 km in one week's time to raise money to fund women entrepreneurs that are trying to move forward from violence.  I wanted to share a few of those reasons in the hope that it might inspire people to donate to our marathon quest.  This is some of what has inspired this mission:

  • It was sitting with a dear friend that was like a brother to me in despair at his mom’s apartment a few days after she died.  As I listened to him recount her life, I noticed that he was telling it in chapters of the violence she experienced, and I came to the devastating realization that her story of abuse was also his story of abuse, and that she died never really having escaped it.
  • It was August 8 and May 16: two days when my life changed forever with the birth of my daughters and, as a mom, I started to constantly think about the “what ifs”.
  • It was 6 months working with child protection workers at the Children’s Aid Society as we compiled indisputable statistical evidence telling us that in a home where mom is abused, the children are likely abused and vice versa.
  • In the course of that same research, it was reading the Ontario Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Gillian Hadley whose final act as a mom was to struggle to get her front door open long enough to get her 1-year old child outside and into a neighbour’s arms before she was killed, and knowing that not being able to afford alternative housing was one of the reasons she was still in her family home that day.  
  • It’s the fact that Ontario now has Jared’s law because another little 8 year old boy in Brantford didn’t make it out the front door when he was caught in the crossfire of domestic violence.
  • It was sitting around a table with a group of violence survivors and listening to them agree that the scariest day of their life was not the day they went into a shelter, but the day they left its security and protection.
  • It’s been listening to the news over the past 18 months and thinking about how many women don’t get daily coverage of the fear they are living with, or the survival strategies they are putting in place every day.
  • And now it’s the amazing, courageous, strong, resilient women we work with at One Spark that say all they want is to live free of the fear, shame, guilt, and denigration that they’ve experienced and that they know, given this chance to generate income and stand on their own, that they will finally come to see that they have much to bring to the table and are so much more than their violent experiences. 
There are so many other reasons, including the 24 women and children we lost in Ontario to gender-based violence in 2014, and the 599 we have lost since 1990.  It also includes the more than 1,000 indigenous women in Canada that have been missing or murdered since 1980.  I would add that it is also the silence that surrounds so much of the violence.  Violence against women is an issue so often wrapped in a deafening silence.

Please help One Spark continue to do critical work that breaks down financial barriers to women living lives free of violence.  Please donate to our 2 For 2 Marathon at: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/2-for-2-marathon-two-sisters-for-two-women/

If you need more reasons, please take a minute to watch our golf tournament video.  Thanks for being part of our journey.


The Kindness that I Take With Me

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 12:25 PM



We're now under 3 weeks away from running the 2 For 2 Marathon.  It's been a tough journey to this point, and it will be a long road to conquer on October 18th.  I'm so proud and excited to be running that road with my sister, as I believe that we are all stronger when we take things on together.  This has been true of my training, so I wanted to share 3 of the greatest gifts of kindness I've received leading up to the big day.  Each of them (in addition to the amazing, generous, gracious hearts that have supported this run) has become my daily inspiration to run strong.




The first are my awesome new kicks.  A few years ago I found what I believed to be the perfect pair of running shoes: the first pair that I have been 100% comfortable in, with no foot pain, no blisters, no shin splints.  But as I started training the mesh on the front of them started to rip.  I wasn't sure what to do because I didn't want to run the marathon in anything other than these shoes, but I knew that that there was a chance they would completely fall apart mid-run.  A few weeks ago my husband came up with a scheme while he was out doing some shopping to get my daughter to take a picture of the inside of the tongue of my running shoe and text it to him.  He found the exact model and surprised me with a pair of new old shoes.  (#waybetterthanflowers)  I've loved every minute of training in them.

Then, last week I received two other amazing surprises.  The first were new socks that were sent to me by a dear friend and incredible soul, who not only found a pair that are totally blister-resistant, but also have great sentimental meaning because they let me take the warrior hearts of the people that are close to me that have been affected by cancer out on the road, reminding me what it means to take on a real battle.  I love that they say "Go Fight Cure".

And, finally, the beautiful medallion in the picture.  Those who see me regularly often notice that I wear a peace necklace that I almost never take off.  Now I have this medallion that I wear daily and will have around my neck on race day, so that it is close to my heart.  It's got the day and distance of the marathon, but the thing I love most about it is that my sister has the exact match to it...the only other one to exist.  It was a gift from her, and one of the best I have ever received.  I didn't think my gratitude to her could run any deeper, but she awed me with this amazing treasure.

Being supported in this journey in these ways - and in a million other wonderful ways - has reminded me that we all need a circle of support, compassion, empathy, and love.  That is the founding spirit of One Spark: to be part of that circle for women who are living their own challenging journey: to find ways to share the road with them and make their load a little less.  We truly are all stronger together.  I invite you to be part of that circle for the women we work with and consider supporting our marathon with a donation at https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/2-for-2-marathon-two-sisters-for-two-women/.

Thanks so much,

Corrie