Category Archives: Philanthropy

Making Changes: Block by Block

New Grantee: The BLK ProjeK


Although the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the South Bronx is one of the largest food distribution centers in the world, many of its neighbors are without access to quality, healthy food. The median annual income in the South Bronx is $19,113, and good groceries are sparse.

The BLK ProjeK was born out of the frustrations of one such inhabitant: Tanya Fields. Tanya was a poor, single mother who moved to the South Bronx and found her asthmatic child struggling with the pollution generated by the hundreds of thousands of semis that deliver food to Hunts Point every year.

The struggles of her son led Tanya to think increasingly more about environmental justice. She began drawing connections between the unhealthy urban environments in which poor people lived, and the unhealthy food available to them. She also, naturally, began drawing connections between the unhealthy food available to poor urban communities, and the women who serve that food to their families. Tanya realized that poverty has a feminine face.

In order to tackle the insufficient access to healthy food in the South Bronx, Tanya consequently turned to mothers. She starting small, facilitating “Mommy & Me” classes in order to educate mothers about nutrition. In 2009, her efforts expanded beyond the classroom to the garden, and the BLK ProjeK was born.

The women of BLK ProjeK were guerilla gardeners from the outset. They broke into abandoned lots in the South Bronx and planted vegetables. They created a groundswell, compelling more than 200 residents to petition and telephone the Housing Preservation and Development of NYC, demanding that the city allow the BLK ProjeK to turn one of those lots into an urban farm. Eventually their demands were heard, and that lot became the Libertad Urban Farm. In order to deliver produce from the Libertad Urban Farm to their community, the women of the BLK ProjeK then renovated an old school bus, turning it into a beautiful mobile market running exclusively on used vegetable oil.

But Tanya and the BLK ProjeK have their sights set higher still. They want the South Bronx to be able to feed itself. They want to change the economic and political landscape of the community by creating local jobs and promoting municipal participation. And women remain the catalyst in all this. The BLK ProjeK is driven by its firm belief in the “girl effect” – the notion that investing in women and women-led efforts is the most effective way to promote social change. Women plant the seeds of physical and fiscal health in every community.

In order to support the BLK ProjeK, the Spark grant will:

  • Provide funds for the growth and sale of produce from the Libertad Urban Farm
  • Provide stipends for volunteer farmers
  • Promote community outreach in order to encourage participation in the Libertad Urban Farm, as well as the farm’s CSA

And source the following Pro Bono needs:

  • Web Design

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for The BLK ProjeK, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. If you are interested in providing pro bono services for them, please email

We are thrilled to support this wonderful organization. Visit BLK ProjeK’s website to learn more.

Spotlight on Caitlin Heising, Honorary Host of Spark’s Black & Pink Ball

Spark loves Millennials who are committed to philanthropy and actively making our world a more just and equitable place for all. Black & Pink Ball Honorary Host and Spark Member, Caitlin Heising epitomizes our ideals. Caitlin is actively committed to engaging young people in human rights and empowering women and girls. As an inspiration to us and the next generation of philanthropists, we wanted to learn more. We sat down with Caitlin to learn more about her journey and passions including starting the Young Professionals Network of Human Rights Watch, joining the board of her family’s foundation, and learning to fly.

Caitlin Heisign

Caitlin Heising – Honorary Host of Spark’s 10th Anniversary Black & Pink Ball

What has led you on this journey of philanthropy and social impact? 

Growing up, I watched my mom spend time volunteering in my school and tutoring underserved children in our community. During high school and college, I also tutored and mentored children from refugee families who had recently resettled in the U.S. Meeting them and hearing their stories made the problems and conflicts I’d learn about in class seem much more real and human. In college, I tried to understand how best to empower (as opposed to simply aid) individuals and communities who had been dealt an unfair hand in the world. Also around that time, my parents started our family’s foundation, which intrigued me from the start. I knew one day I would want to be deeply involved in philanthropy and social impact because I could see the improvements it was making in our community at home. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to deepen our impact by exploring different strategies, including funding national policy work, and that’s the other element of this work that I love – you can always do and give better, and there is always more to learn.

Why did you decide to leave the corporate world to join the board of your family’s foundation (The Heising-Simons Foundation) and learn about philanthropy?

After working for a couple years in tech PR and corporate communications consulting, I felt like I had learned a lot and wanted to pivot to a career with more social impact. I had the opportunity to join the board of the foundation and build out grantmaking focused on human rights, and the timing felt right. I know I’m still young, but I also know it’s never too early to be making an impact on the world, and I felt like working with the foundation was my best opportunity to do that. It’s also been great to spend more time with my parents (who I have to say are awesome) and learn more about their values and vision for the future.

What causes are you most passionate about and why?

I’m passionate about human rights, especially here in the U.S. According to a national study, the average American citizen, journalist and politician is unaware that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exists. The language of human rights simply isn’t widely known in our mainstream culture. We’re seeing the effects of this apathy and long-standing systemic inequities dangerously play out all the time lately with racial profiling, police misconduct, and other violent and unjust acts making front-page news every week. And with more than two million people in prisons and jails, the U.S. has the most imprisoned people in the world. As a country that espouses freedom and human rights internationally, we have the power to influence policies in other countries as well. For the U.S. to truly assume the mantle of human rights leadership, however, we will have to practice more thoroughly at home what we preach abroad.

I’m also passionate about empowering women and girls around the world. It’s scary to think about how much still needs to be done to improve health, education, and economic opportunities for women and girls, but it’s clear that these types of investments go a long way in improving lives and communities.

Tell us more about the Human Rights Watch Young Professionals Network you launched in March?  

My friend (and fellow Spark member) Erika Gomez and I started the group to support Human Rights Watch and engage young people in human rights. We’re now a dedicated group of volunteers in the Bay Area who support HRW through outreach, advocacy, and fundraising. We work to promote awareness of human rights issues through public education events and strategic advocacy campaigns, and also nurture the next generation of philanthropists by hosting events to generate support for the organization and its mission. We’re having our inaugural art auction and cocktail party, called A Night for Human Rights, on October 16th in San Francisco – you should come!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’d like for us to be continuing the human rights grantmaking at the foundation and I’d like to have completed an MBA program focused on social impact. I’d also like to be in a position to advise other young people and families on next gen and human rights-based philanthropy. I’m a California girl at heart, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still living in the Bay Area.

What advice do you have for other millennials interested in making social impact? 

Firstly, I’d commend their interest and passion! Then I would say to take time to reflect on your goals and study the issue you want to change. Meet everyone you can who is also working on that problem – including, most importantly, the people who are directly affected by it. There are a lot of trends and “shiny new things” vying for attention in the social sector. The challenge can be figuring out which approaches will have deep, lasting impact and which will only skim the surface.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?


What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

Sense of humor and humility.

What is your favorite journey?

 This is a tough one. I love going to new places. Most recently I went to the fjords in Norway, which was absolutely beautiful. I also am nostalgic and love the drive to Tahoe for Christmas, which for many years we celebrated in my grandparents’ cabin in the woods.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I’m lucky to have three amazing grandmothers who are each very different, but all share the qualities of poise, purpose, and passion. For that and more, I aspire to live a life full of love and adventure like they have.

Reflections: Spark’s Philanthropic Mentorship Series Launch

Reflections by Spark Member, David Scatterday

It was a distinct pleasure to participate in the inaugural installment of Spark’s Philanthropic Mentorship Series. Worthy of a truly notable launch, we were joined by philanthropic innovators Yann Borgstedt and Antonela Notari Vischer from the Womanity Foundation.


Auspiciously, everything about the launch event of such a promising series was seamless.

First, a little about our guests: Womanity is an entrepreneurial foundation that thinks creatively to find solutions to today’s women’s empowerment challenges. Key topical areas of action include giving women and girls a voice, advancing education and opportunities, providing fellowships to emerging female social entrepreneurs.  As a man, Womanity’s founder Yann Borgstedt does not fit the traditional model of a woman’s empowerment pioneer. However, Yann understands that solving for women’s issues is a key part of solving every development issue around the globe.

Back to our scene: we were hosted in the headquarters of the Cordes Foundation, whose work is focused on alleviating global poverty and empowering women and girls to fully participate in the development of their communities.

In my mind, the event crystallized everything that is so great about Spark.

First, reinforcing its mission of empowering tomorrow’s philanthropic leaders, the event was custom-designed to engage millennials in real dialogue with real practitioners. Speaking with leading social entrepreneurs in the field triggered valuable dialogue about real solutions to pain points encountered by the aspiring millennial philanthropists and activists in the room.

Second, the event was infused by a deep sense of shared mission. While Spark and Womanity take relatively different approaches to programming and fundraising for women’s issues – it was very evident the two organizations share a deeply held common cause of empowering women around the world. This shared sense of mission added a tangible sense of relevance and urgency to the entire session’s dialogue.

Finally, over several years of involvement with Spark, I’ve realized that solving for women’s issues requires an ‘all-hands’ approach. In our increasingly globalized and resource-constrained world, every pressing social issue is a woman’s issue. Whether climate change, health care access or hunger, women are disproportionately impacted. Bringing about real change will require large-scale collective action – women and men working together to solve truly global problems.  Both Womanity and Spark are organizations that understand this and practice a large-tent approach to addressing social problems every day.

Last week’s mentorship session made me prouder than ever to be an active male, millennial philanthropist and Spark member, confirming that I, and everyone at Spark, are taking the right steps to meaningfully improve the welfare of women in this generation – and the next.

Seeing Through Our Project Window

New Grantee: Project Window

By Chrissy Schwen

Far Rockaway, the easternmost part of Long Island’s Rockaway Peninsula, can be a tough place to grow up. That is something Angela Hines knows all too well. Born and raised in the Far Rockaway NYCHA housing projects, Hines dropped out of high school in 1987 and struggled for years to support herself and her family. Vowing to create a better life for her children, Hines got her GED and decided to further her education.


Dubbed “Hero mom” by the New York Daily News, Hines’ determination is awe-inspiring. In order to attend CUNY law school, she would bus from her apartment in Far Rockaway two hours with two children in tow, and then return from class in time to make dinner for all five of her children. All that hard work paid off; in 2009 Hines achieved her dream by becoming a practicing lawyer at the Queens County Court Legal Aid Society.

After succeeding in building a better life for her own family, Hines set her sights on improving the lives of girls still struggling in her community. She created Project Window to help girls in the Far Rockaway housing projects reach their full potential. “I don’t want to turn my back on the community,” she said. “If I could help just one person, then my work is done.”


She’s done much more than that. Project Window has supported girls in Far Rockaway in many ways – from mentoring and tutoring programs to providing girls in the Sandy-raged community with free prom dresses and community service opportunities. All of the programs are designed to instill a sense of responsibility, community, and possibility. To achieve this level of comprehensive support, the organization is divided into components:

  • Project Connection is Project Window’s mentoring program. Each child is paired with a mentor for a school year for weekly activities and monthly check-ins that record the child’s progress.
  • Project Steppers promotes physical fitness and camaraderie through athletic and recreation activities, including volleyball and dance, on the weekends and through summer camps. The program aims to reach girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in organized activities.
  • Team Recovery aims to provide tutoring and other academic support to girls to keep them focused on their schooling.
  • Project Bulls-eye is a series of workshops for girls that address self-esteem, peer pressure, sex education, drug and alcohol abuse, and healthy relationships. The workshops aim to improve the girls’ ability to address these issues in a positive way.
  • Project Give back teaches girls to value their community and themselves by organizing clothing and toy drives, visits to nursing homes, and time at local soup kitchens.


It is Project Window’s hope that this broad spectrum of assistance will expose its participants to opportunities they might not otherwise have had, and teach them self-awareness, the importance of education, and strong interpersonal skills.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to support Project Window! A Spark grant will cover:

  • The cost of 15 girls to participate in their summer camps
  • Pro bono support including:

o   Prom Dresses: Project Window is sponsoring “Queens of Far Rockaways” event, providing prom dresses and accessories to girls in the Far Rockaways who wouldn’t otherwise have them. If you have a dress to donate please email

o   Website Expertise: Project Window is looking for help revamping their website, and needs your help. Please contact for more details.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for Project Window, please make a donation on our website. And if you are interested in donating dresses, revamping the website, or providing other pro bono services for Project Window, email Learn more about Project Window on their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

SparkSF Member Profile: Leo Garver

Leo Garver graduated from Pomona College with a degree in Chemistry. He has Spark Member: Leo Garverdone early-stage research for treatments of HIV, Hepatitis C and Cancer. He has recently shifted from using his talents in analytical chemistry to data analytics. He now does analytics and business intelligence consulting for a variety of bay area startups and non-profits (like Spark!). He is also an avid singer and ballroom dancer.

Leo’s Spark Story:
A former classmate introduced to me to Spark, and I was immediately intrigued with Spark’s mission and methodology. I joined the digital strategy committee and started going to Spark events. I was so impressed with both the people I met and the causes that Spark supports that I had to get more involved!

Who is your favorite grantee?
Uganda Women’s Water Initiative.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A beach vacation with a good book and good friends.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
The ability to play any song on any musical instrument.

What is your most marked characteristic?
A Thirst for Knowledge. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads me to become a fountain of useless trivia.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
An Eagle. Gracefully flying around clear blue skies sounds like a pretty excellent second life.

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

What is your favorite journey?
 I spent a semester living and going to school in South Africa.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Nelson Mandela and Paul Wellstone.

5 Reasons To Be Grateful

5 reasons for being grateful

Authored By Spark Member: Larkin Callaghan

With the onslaught of Christmas carols, blowout sales on every corner, and impending sense of personal debt, all the telltale signs are here – the holidays have arrived. So, how do you stay sane during times of consumer craziness? One of the best ways to counter the ‘buy buy buy’ mentality is to focus on how grateful we are for what we already have. And with Thanksgiving coming up in just over a week, this is the perfect time for us to reflect on some of those things we can be grateful for:

1) Community – I know, I know. This is pretty par for the course around the Thanksgiving-gratitude-roundtable. But a strong community is what started Spark and communities dedicated to their development and growth are what Spark supports – creating one global community of folks constantly on the lookout for one another. We can be grateful that we live in a space that allows us to facilitate the work we love and are dedicated to.

2) Freedom to move beyond boundaries – the holidays are often when we regroup with our families and friends – which usually means getting on planes, getting in cars, and climbing onto trains. Sometimes prohibitive cost prevents this – but usually infrastructure, political and social instability and unrest, or in the currently devastating case of the Philippines, natural disasters, are not preventing this – as is the case for many of the organizations that we at Spark support.

3) Innovation – Living in San Francisco, it’s easy to take advantage of the remarkable developments being made in technology – and they certainly aren’t perfect (oh, the Facebook mistakes we’ve all made…). But the incredible gains that have been made in the global development space due to innovation in the last decade especially can’t be understated – everything from being able to support a microloan to the exact person or organization that speaks to you the most, to sharing news and updates via social media, to being able to facilitate healthcare in resource-poor settings thanks to mobile tech, to creating political movements via Twitter – to being able to become a member of democratic organizations like Spark with a few clicks of a keyboard! – it’s pretty amazing what’s happened and we’re pretty grateful for it.

4) Social movements work – Spark members know this already, but last year, when a collected effort was made to encourage folks around the country to participate in Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Black Friday, dedicated to giving back to non-profit and charitable organizations), over 50 million people pushed the agenda of charitable giving – resulting in millions of dollars of donations to non-profit organizations. So we’re thankful you’re involved.

5) Science backs up the importance of gratitudestudies have shown that being thankful and expressing it leads to a happier and healthier you – being thankful for how gratitude improves our well-being is a little meta, but we like it!

This year, Giving Tuesday is December 3, 2013 – and it’s a great way to give back after the onslaught of Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchasing craziness! A day dedicated to recognizing and celebrating non-profit and charitable organizations, Giving Tuesday allows you to show your thanks to Spark and other groups that work to serve vulnerable populations all over the globe – those who may not have the same resources we’re so lucky to have. Make a contribution of your own, or gift one for someone else – a Spark membership makes a great holiday present!

SparkNYC Member Profile: Kanwal Jehan

Kanwal Jehan works as a Litigation Paralegal at Cooley LLP – an Spark Member: Kanwal Jehaninternational law firm that represents clients across a number of industry sectors including technology, life sciences, clean tech, real estate, financial services, retail, and energy. Kanwal graduated from St. John’s University in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Legal Studies and a minor in Criminal Justice.

She serves on the Investment Committee for SparkNYC and Advisory Board for Turning Point for Women and Families. In her free time, she enjoys attending Zumba classes and reading fiction books. She talks to us about how she got involved with Spark, Europe and time travel.

Kanwal’s Spark Story:
My former officemate introduced me to SparkNYC and invited me to their Cocktails for a Cause event. After having a great time at the event, I met with one of the board members to learn more about Spark’s history and mission. Since then, I have fallen in love with the organization. Spark has given me the opportunity to grow as a leader and connect with amazing people. I love being a part of an organization that truly wants to help bring change for women in United States and around the world.

Who is your favorite grantee?
Women LEAD, the first and only leadership development organization for young women in Nepal.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A happy family.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
If I could time travel, that would be great. I would love to go back in time to see my childhood and spend more time with my Dad.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Determination. No matter how difficult it gets, I never give up and keep moving forward.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A cure for all diseases.

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

What is your favorite journey?
In 2009, I studied abroad for a semester in Paris, Dublin and Rome. I had never been to Europe and this was the first time I had ever traveled on my own. I am grateful that I was able to make this trip; it taught me important life lessons that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My Dad, Mom and Aunts, Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton and Paulo Coelho.