Client Name: Geraldine Kirega
Business Name: Spark the Dream
Business Website: Coming soon!
Industry: Daycare/After school program
Location: Manchester, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Andrea O'Brien
When she saw their dreams were fading, Geraldine Kirega, Founder and Executive Director of Spark the Dream stepped in with the fire they needed.
Geraldine had observed for some time that African immigrant and refugee children appeared to be going astray. They were joining the wrong crowds, committing crimes, not listening to their parents, and so on. “Because of these things, they were saying bad things about us,” says Geraldine. What’s more, parents became stressed, couples would argue, and families were losing connection.
Rather than shake her head in disapproval though, Geraldine decided to do something about it, stating, “they didn’t travel 7,000 miles from Africa to end up on the streets.” So, she gathered the community into different focus groups, starting with just women, then calling in the couples together. All shared the same frustrations of children not listening, joining the wrong crowds, and essentially going wild.
Taking it a step further, Geraldine called in the youth in a third focus group and posed the questions as to why this is all happening. The youth shared their challenges and noted that they are not listening to their parents because they felt that because they are in America, they were now free.
All three groups however, had one request in common. Geraldine explains, “They told me to create a program, which will bring kids back to their families, to bring peace and happiness to their families.” And, that’s how Geraldine came to start Spark the Dream. “All of them I talked to…their dream was fading, so I wanted to rekindle it, to spark it.”
Spark the Dream, an official 501(c)(3) non-profit since 2017, is a before and after school care program to help immigrant and refugee children and families integrate into the American culture smoothly. Using the principles rooted in Africa, Spark the Dream is bridging the widening generation gap and racial divide. Children had been deviating from their culture and the parents wanted that back. Through folktales, recreation, performances, discussions, proverbs, and conversations, Spark the Dream is teaching lessons through culture, encouraging better behavior, and bringing families back together. “With me as their teacher, I am helping them to catch up in school, but also teaching them our culture,” says Geraldine. “If they understand their culture, they have a better connection to their mothers and to being good kids in their homeland.”
Starting Spark the Dream was not easy. Geraldine quickly learned how hard it can be to convince people to give you money. Luckily, Geraldine does not take no for an answer. In seeking support, she would often get questioned by people asking why she would create a new program when there are so many good existing programs out there such as the YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc. She would passionately tell them, “I have a call. I have a mission! I have a message from the people themselves. If you are not going to give me money, it’s okay. I will continue.”
And, when the organization was about to close due to lack of funding, continue is what Geraldine did. Instead of closing her doors, she opened a door to opportunity by reaching out to the NH SBDC for information on the SBA COVID-19 EIDL relief program.
Andrea O’Brien, NH SBDC Business Advisor connected Spark the Dream with the EIDL funds. “That money was a savior for us,” says Geraldine. “We were about to lose people. This allowed us to continue the program.” Andrea has been a big help to Geraldine, helping her to get Spark the Dream more organized as she continued to build the organization and pursue additional funding.
“She (Andrea) showed me everything,” says Geraldine. Andrea helped her to better formalize and organize Spark the Dream, so potential funders would be more apt to approve funding. Andrea assisted Geraldine with things such as creating a business plan and cash flow chart, writing loan and grant applications, and more. With Andrea’s help, Spark the Dream acquired both the EIDL loan and the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds it needed to keep going.
“She’s a wonderful lady, a friend, she is everything,” says Geraldine. “If I need something, I ask Andrea. She helps me. She’s so well connected, I’m gonna stick to her like a tick,” Geraldine concludes with a chuckle.
Geraldine is excited about Spark the Dream’s progress so far. Parents who have enrolled their families in the program are very happy with how it’s going, and Geraldine is hopeful that through NH SBDC’s support, the organization will thrive and prosper to fulfill its mission. Spark the Dream is in the process of building its website, but Geraldine welcomes anyone who would like to learn more to connect with her at email@example.com.