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The past year for Spark Ventures and our partners around the globe had several bright spots among many dark days. Our partners battled COVID directly – with key leaders and community members suffering serious health complications, and indirectly – via closed schools and constricted economies, exacerbating existing poverty and hunger. Yet despite the widespread hardship endured, we were able to deepen our impact and grow our support together, yielding meaningful positive outcomes for our partners. This report illuminates just a few of the ways our community has thrived in the past year.


We now have two years worth of virtual events under our belts, and you have proven to us once again, that the incredible Spark Ventures community is undeterred by limits on our ability to gather. Thanks to continued record breaking fundraising, we were able to meaningfully increase partner funding both for core operations and new initiatives.


Spark Ventures takes pride in funding core programming efforts – this includes salaries, fundamental nutrition programs, health care, and education. This year we were also able to expand our funding to cover inflation risk. When a country’s currency fluctuates, it causes volatility in how far our US dollar contributions go. While an inflation cushion might not be the most exciting budget line item, it is representative of Spark’s mission and values – it provides consistency for our partners, who can rely on the fact that they will have the right amount of money to fund their critical initiatives regardless of political or economic turmoil.

In addition to the core funding we provided, we also supported some very impactful initiatives in 2021. In line with our emphasis on sustainability and empowerment, we invested in vocational, skill building and educational programs with our partners:


Las Tías / Nicaragua – A literacy & vocational skills initiative for mothers of Las Tías’ youth beneficiaries, along with a new piñata making course, have had a life-changing impact on program participants. These programs complement other long-standing vocational training programs serving adults and teens.


Hope / Zambia – New crafting & cooking programs targeting Hope’s WOW program (“Women of Worth” – serving the elder population in the community) include making and selling mats from repurposed plastic bags, a sewing initiative, and paper beads – an idea leveraged across borders from our partners in Mexico. The women also cook together, sharing recipes for items that can be sold in the community.


Entreamigos / Mexico – Facilitated by a member of the Spark Board, a new partnership with a local hotel has provided an exciting outlet for the handmade treasures that the women entrepreneurs create from recycled items. The hotel is now contracting the women entrepreneurs to make hundreds of handmade gifts each month!


We Grow / Chicago, USA – The “Kids on the Move” summer camp gave children in Englewood a chance to get outside, learn, explore, get active, and build friendships in a loving, joyful space after months of isolation due to COVID and safety concerns in the neighborhood. The activities were designed to empower campers by strengthening their physical, mental, and emotional growth and by expanding their world.

Thank you to several special supporters and the entire Spark community for making these programs possible. Your generosity has enabled so much in this past year. We hope you enjoy these highlights of what we have accomplished together.

2020 Annual Report - Design Content-02

Kristin Schrepferman

Executive Director, Spark Ventures

One of the biggest silver linings of the pandemic has been a greatly expanded focus on equipping our partners with technology resources to support their participation in our increasingly digital world. This has also provided exciting new opportunities for ongoing connectivity between our supporters and our partners’ beneficiaries.



Thanks to some very special Spark supporters, Hope Community School now has a fully functioning computer lab equipped with 20 new Chromebooks (and a Chromebook charging cart which traveled several months by sea to get there). The computer lab and Hope’s library have been outfitted with projectors, screens, microphones, speakers and cameras.  


A core group of dedicated Spark Supporters have built out a robust schedule of engagement opportunities with “Math is Fun!” twice-weekly lessons for Hope’s 7th and 9th graders, monthly health and wellness meetings for Hope’s 8th graders, and bi-monthly professional development meetings for Hope’s teachers as they navigate using their new Chromebooks.


As the teachers gain more confidence with the technology equipment (for many, it’s their first interaction with a computer), the opportunities for leveraging online educational resources are endless.



The past year accelerated an existing trend towards digital literacy as a key skill set for all. The digital divide is evident at all four of our partners where resources for technology are scarce and even basic internet connectivity is a challenge.


For We Grow, our Chicago partner in Englewood, 70% of people in the community do not have an internet connection in their homes. To help remove barriers to employment & academic opportunities, Spark supporters funded a new computer lab for We Grow. The lab provides a safe space for students to receive educational support, but it is also available for teens and adults who are continuing their education or searching for employment.


At Entreamigos in Mexico, unfortunate circumstances resulted in the need to replace all of the equipment and furniture in their computer lab. The Entreamigos community rallied to provide everything needed to reopen the lab during a very critical time. The impact of COVID created a wide educational gap for students in San Pancho, many of whom had trouble keeping up during remote learning. Thanks to Spark and several other generous supporters in the Entreamigos community, the new tech center is up and running and is available to any child who needs a computer and internet access for educational purposes.

Our Nicaraguan partners at Las Tías have outlined a proposal for a new computer lab and computer literacy instructor. We hope to be able to bring this initiative to life in the coming year.


Across the board, we are excited for opportunities to expand our technology initiatives in 2022 and the increased access and educational resources they will unlock for the beneficiaries at each of our partner organizations.

Nothing can compare to hearing directly from the individuals who are supported by your contributions to our work. Take a peek at these interviews to get a first hand account of the impact you have had on their lives in the past year.

Meet Jessica

Hope Community School


Meet Elwin



Meet Maritza

Las Tías


Meet Kourtney

We Grow


Spark Ventures was founded with a focus on providing sustainable solutions to poverty. A powerful tool in service of that goal is opening up access to financial services that have otherwise been out of reach. At Las Tías in Nicaragua and Hope in Zambia, microfinance initiatives have allowed small scale entrepreneurs from the community to launch and expand their businesses.


The Las Tías Revolving Fund serves women looking to sustain and grow their small businesses so they can provide a better future for themselves and their families. In 2021, Spark Ventures provided new support for this program that allowed Las Tías to increase the number of borrowers. Serving around 130 individuals each year, a key requirement to participate in the fund is that the borrowers must commit to sending their children to school rather than enlisting them to help with the business – ensuring that children are receiving an education while their parents are able to support the families’ needs. Interest from the fund is supporting multiple salaries and side projects at Las Tias.

In Zambia, the Village Banking program launched in 2020 continues to grow, serving 34 beneficiaries in the past year. Despite the economic challenges of the pandemic, entrepreneurs were able to bring in extra income by selling vegetables from Hope’s farm and expand their product offering with additional capital from the program.

In 2020, Spark Ventures formed a partnership with I Grow Chicago, an organization dedicated to growing their community of West Englewood from surviving to thriving through community connection, skill building, and opportunity. Spark has supported these efforts by providing funding for educational and emotional support for at-risk youth, a summer program, and a new computer lab.


We are thrilled to share the news that I Grow has recently transformed into “We Grow” – a collaborative fueled by community-based organizations indigenous to West Englewood. We Grow is now a beautiful collection of nonprofit organizations that are bringing justice, hope and love to the community and beyond. We Grow will continue to work out of the Peace Campus on the corner of 64th and Honore where you can currently find everything from mentorship and support services – to yoga and healing arts. The new collaboration will bring a multitude of organizations into the fold, providing additional expertise & services to support youth development, families, mental health programs, legal services, healthy living, workforce development, food access, public safety, environmental awareness, and more.

As We Grow begins this next chapter, we are thrilled to continue our partnership and contribute to their mission of growing Englewood from surviving to thriving. Learn more about the exciting opportunities that come with this expanded partnership here.

During the past two years of virtual events, not only have we raised more revenue, but we have also been able to engage a broader group of supporters, located outside our traditional Chicago network. We have re-engaged with former travelers, and built new connections with friends-of-friends of our supporters who were simply captivated by our mission and willing to Zoom-in to hear more.

FY21 Board Member Listing


For the time period: July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021
Michael Campbell | Chair

CEO, Fusion Risk Management

Julie Tafel Klaus | Vice Chair

Community Volunteer


Doak Elliott | Treasurer

Sr. Manager, Revenue Accounting at CDW


Kathy Campbell Wolf | Secretary

Community Volunteer


Scott Barbeau
Spark Ventures Co-Founder, Founder & Executive Director of UpBeat Music, Professional Musician
Constance Benrud

Community Volunteer


Sue Bernstein

Community Volunteer


Julie Cook

Community Volunteer

Rich Johnson

Spark Ventures Co-Founder, VP Global Leadership Development, Spaulding Ridge

Jennifer Kim

Community Volunteer


Vicki Kraft

Business Consultant

Lisa Madonia

Real Estate Broker, @ Properties


Dan Marcus

Spark Ventures Co-Founder, Director Emeritus, Managing Member at Marcus Capital, LLC


Patti O’Neil
CFO & Treasurer, RUSH University System for Health
Kristin Schrepferman

Executive Director,
Spark Ventures

Leadership Team

Kristin Schrepferman

Executive Director

Katie Gustafson
Communication & Events Coordinator
Michelle Morin
Finance & CRM Manager
Stephanie Denzer
Strategic Communications Consultant

FY21 Revenue & Other Support – $817,091


  • individuals

  • events

  • corporate and foundations

  • in-kind

Jump start your 2022 impact with Spark Ventures by making a contribution today!


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