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Mental Health is Key to Well-being

  |   mental health, report from the field, spark ventures

An important and integral part of Spark’s mission is healthcare – both physical and mental. All of our partner organizations serve vulnerable communities and understand the critical need for healthcare interventions. Each of our partners provide resources and expertise to address the mental health and well-being of their beneficiaries so they can reach their fullest potential. 




Before joining the Spark Ventures Board, Vicki Kraft was President and CEO of a domestic violence shelter in an inner city, and saw first-hand the impact of trauma on children and adults. Trauma can be caused by violence, of course, but also by poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, and any overwhelmingly negative event that causes a lasting impact on mental and emotional stability. 


Using her expertise, Vicki posed the idea of creating a trauma-based training program to Spark’s Partners Committee. She enlisted the help of an education expert to consult and develop a thorough and culturally specific training program on trauma as it relates to Hope’s community. The Trauma Informed Care (TIC) program began in February 2022 at Hope Community School in Zambia.


TIC Weekly Zoom Training Session

Through weekly Zoom calls, Vicki joins the trauma training expert, Elizabeth Power, M.Ed., to facilitate and train teachers and staff members in ‘trauma-responsive teaching’ methods. The basic steps are: 1) Identify the characteristics that mark an experience as traumatic; 2) Specify reactions to the trauma that impair the ability to be present and learn; and, 3) Apply trauma-responsive management strategies. 


“Trauma Responsiveness starts from recognizing how traumatic events have affected individuals and how it motivates their behavior,” Vicki explained. “We ask: ’how is this behavior serving this person? Who is upset by it?’ That helps with understanding the reasons driving the behavior and how to address the trauma in a healing manner.” 


Counselor Margaret Chabala Imasiku

As part of the mental health and wellness program, Hope Community School welcomed Margaret Chabala Imasiku to their team. Margaret is a passionate mental healthcare provider who has degrees in Psychology and Library Information Science. She works with children and adults, through group counseling sessions, skills training and mentorship programs. As the school counselor, Margaret participates in the weekly TIC sessions and will use the training to enhance the level of care the Hope students receive. 


Vicki says they begin each TIC session with good news stories about the positive results that the students and teachers are noting. They close each session with songs and reflection, and sometimes a little dancing for good measure. 


Teachers were asked to describe things that are better since the TIC sessions started:


  • I have learned to be calm and kind.


  • I have learned to recognize trauma and to respond without judgment. I know the learners are doing the best they can.


  • I have learned to recognize when I am upset by behaviors and to take myself aside, and use breathing techniques to calm myself.


  • The learner’s grades have improved. It has enriched their lives.


“The TIC training is ongoing and now training sessions are beginning to transition from regulatory techniques to calm the brain and relationship skills of trauma training, into the neuroscience of learning,” Vicki said. “The goal is to help learners get content (information) and new behaviors into their long term memory, and help them have learning experiences that are as though they never experienced trauma. This is profound.


WE GROW | Chicago, IL


The connection of mental health and wellness is a very important part of the services provided on We Grow Chicago’s Peace Campus. A deep consideration for the social-emotional well-being of children and family units fosters a caring environment, productivity, independence, and positive change. In a recent assessment of the community, 72 percent of respondents identified mental health services as an important need and Spark is proud to support programming that is helping to provide these vital mental health resources. 


Last summer, Spark supported the “Kids on the Move” Summer Day Camp that provided a range of activities to engage youth in a safe and fun environment and improve their social, emotional and mental health and well-being. The program helped youth develop skills through social emotional learning, physical activities and collaborative team efforts. The children were taught yoga and meditation skills, went on field trips and were introduced to healthy living habits through gardening, cooking and nutrition classes. 


The Born to Thrive program provided in-person educational support for remote learning on the Peace Campus while schools were closed due to COVID. Forty of the neighborhood’s most vulnerable children and teens received technology and internet access, school supplies, social-emotional support, peer-to-peer activities, meals and snacks, transportation, and advocacy. 


In a neighborhood where 15 percent of the residents don’t have running water, 70 percent don’t have internet, 66 percent are unemployed and 45 percent of the children go to bed hungry, programs like this are crucial. We look forward to continuing our support of We Grow Chicago with investments that help strengthen and empower residents of the Englewood community. 




The women’s entrepreneur group participated in several workshops to support them in their personal lives, with topics such as Conflict Resolution, Mindfulness and Becoming Your Own Entrepreneur. Additionally, they have a local psychologist who will provide individual therapy sessions for those who are interested. Some of the women have begun to gain confidence and ask for more responsibility within the group.


In March, they started hosting monthly group therapy sessions to provide ongoing mental health support to the women. The women experienced problems in group dynamics, for example, related to instances of gossip, which is present in many small towns. To address this issue, the group held workshops in communication and conflict resolution to improve group dynamics. The sessions are having positive results and the women report that they are very helpful, on a personal and on a group level.


LAS TÍAS | Nicaragua


At Las Tías, psychologists are employed to help create a positive and safe environment and improve relationships between families and the center. Beneficiaries receive counseling to help them develop strategies to cope with issues that may be caused by instances such as the lack of involvement by a parent, school demotivation and some cases of physical violence. These cases are referred to the psychologist for evaluation and follow up. 


Other mental health topics and issues are also being addressed for young children to improve their emotional well-being and school performance. To help strengthen social skills, conflict resolution, negotiation and a sense of belonging, they utilize development activities that employ personal, social and emotional expression through songs, stories, dances, games, riddles and mini competitions, each with specific objectives.


For older children, aged 14 to 18, psychological care has been initiated for new entrants to address issues that affect them psychologically and emotionally. Other ongoing efforts include tutoring the children and teaching them about issues such as respecting private property, respecting other people and the importance of personal self-care. Through different relaxation and mindfulness techniques, they help the children recognize their moods, control their impulses and improve their concentration and memory.


For all of us, the last few years have significantly impacted our mental and social landscapes. The pandemic has especially strained social networks and resources in the underserved communities we partner with, increasing the need for these mental health initiatives in their programming. As we continue to recover from COVID, we celebrate the work our partners do to improve the wellness of the adults and children they serve. During Mental Health Awareness Month and always, we will uplift the work being done to create strong, healthy communities. We thank everyone in the Spark community for their support of this mission!