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Igniting Leadership, Sparking Change

Annual Report 2023
Spark mentor and mentee smiling posing for photo

A Message from Our President and CEO

2023 has been a year of tremendous developments at Spark the Journey. We had the opportunity to look back and celebrate 30 years of service in the DMV, while launching a new name, brand, and strategic plan to lay the foundation for an even more impactful future. In the past year, we have already served more young adults than any other year in our history, thanks in part to a successful pilot program with our partner, Year Up.

However, it was not a year without challenges. The racial, income, and opportunity gaps for young Black and Brown adults in D.C. are as wide as ever. Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and student loan forgiveness threaten to widen them further. Meanwhile, volunteer and donation rates are down across the country even though the need in our community remains high.

Spark the Journey is committed to being here as long as that need exists. Our program participants are working incredibly hard to achieve their college and career dreams, and it is an honor to witness what they can accomplish when they have equal access to opportunity.

None of this work would be possible without the support of our mentors, partners, staff, and donors. Thank you for your tireless dedication to our young people. Your involvement is making an impact that will last for generations to come.

Khari posing for photo

30 Years of Mentoring in Washington, D.C.

The 2022-2023 school year marked our 30th year of providing mentorship to young adults in the DMV region. While our services and reach have evolved immensely over the last three decades, mentorship has been our throughline. Today, there are four core components of this work that distinguish us.

  • Longevity – Through three decades of work with young Black and Brown adults, we have developed unique expertise in mentorship practices and deep ties to schools, partners, and the community we serve.
  • Methodology – Our mentorship model is rooted in the Elements of Effective Practices for Mentoring, a research-driven methodology and the gold standard for developing quality youth mentoring programs and impactful mentoring relationships.
  • Relationships – Our rigorous matching process and 1:1 mentorship model creates uniquely robust mentor-mentee relationships, with many pairs remaining formally matched for years and continuing to stay in touch after graduating from our program.
  • Community – Spark the Journey is the sum of the thousands of program participants, family members, mentors, donors, partners, board members, and staff who have passed through our doors. Passion for our mission and relentless commitment to the success of young people drive us in everything we do.
Mentor Pairs

Meet Janiya and Vi

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of Vi’s mentorship was her genuine belief in my potential. She saw beyond my current abilities, created a safe space for me to share my dreams, and encouraged me to take risks and step out of my comfort zone. As a result of Vi’s unwavering support, I felt empowered to chart my own path toward success. I not only achieved my initial goals, but exceeded them, thanks to the guidance and mentorship I received.

JaniyaHigh School Student
Janiya and Vi

Fiscal Year 2023 Impact in Numbers

of Spark participants rated their mentorship as meeting or exceeding their expectations
disbursed in Emergency Funds
of Spark’s high school class of 2022 enrolled in a post-secondary program within one year
of the high school class of 2021 persisted into their second year of post-secondary education
of high school students met grade-level GPA benchmarks
of high school students participated in career readiness activities
of Year Up participants with mentors completed their internships, vs. 90% without a mentor

Meet Our Program Participants

Our program participants are talented, capable, and resilient. They aspire to be engineers, architects, therapists, community leaders, and so much more.

Most live in Wards 5, 7, and 8, where decades of racial and income inequality have led to the highest rates of poverty, violence, and unemployment in the District, as well as the lowest college attainment rates. Despite these barriers, they are working hard to achieve their dreams.

Students posing at Booz Allen Hamilton career day

In fiscal year 2023, we served 623 young adults:

from our high school program
post-secondary program participants
in the Year Up program
of our program participants identify as people of color
are from low-income communities
are the first generation in their family to attend college

Their ages range from


Korgis Dixon

During Covid, I kind of closed myself off. My ninth-grade year, I wouldn’t say it was the greatest for me mentally. Coming into a brand-new high school, not knowing anyone, and overall just trying to adjust was really tough for me. But joining Spark helped me be able to get along with people, especially joining the student leadership council – being able to learn how to be a team player, a collaborative worker, and overall, just a really good friend to people.

KorgisSpark College Student

Pathways to Economic Mobility

Spark’s three-year strategic plan, launched in 2022, emphasizes pathways to economic mobility. In our fiscal year 2023, Spark programming embraced this directive. Our two core program lines, as well as a new pilot program with Year Up, feature curriculums that can be tailored to fit every individual’s needs, whether their path includes college or direct career entry.

Group of Spark mentees pose for photos at an event

High School Program
(Ages 15–18)

Spark high school students complete monthly curricular tools with their mentor that support the development of soft skills and provide structure for future planning. These tools address both college and career preparation, with topics such as goal setting, researching college majors, and conducting informational interviews.

Post-Secondary Program
(Ages 18–23)

Spark’s post-secondary students are pursuing bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, or a workforce credential. In the first two years after high school, they work with their mentor on building career skills and attaining internships. In their third and fourth years post-high school, they shift to a reactive case management model while still receiving Spark resources if needed.

Year Up Program
(Ages 18–29)

Beginning in the fall of 2022, we piloted a new program with Year Up, our partner through the Talent for Tomorrow Alliance. Through this program, Spark matches Year Up participants with mentors for the duration of a six-month internship in a high-growth industry. Mentors and mentees work through a Spark-designed curriculum of conversation topics such as networking, workplace norms, and self-advocacy.

I'm a Navy Federal Credit Union intern via the Year Up program. My experience thus far with Spark the Journey has been wonderful. My mentor, Mr. John Deal, is a computer programmer by trade and he has helped inspire me and given me tips on how to work in a hybrid mode. The amount of experience that I've received from this man on the back end has been awesome. Right now, his guidance and his extra experiences have given me inspiration to help create a plan that will actually get me to my program and goal.

AmanuelYear Up Program Participant

During fiscal year 2023, Spark hosted:

in-person school visits with our high school students
SAT Classes
(and 12 makeup) Year Up cohort check-ins for mentees
(and 10 makeup) Year Up cohort check-ins for mentors
student leadership council meetings
mentor networking and happy hour events
match events for the High School and Post-Secondary Programs
in-person pair activities for mentors and mentees
community-building events
match events for the Year Up Program
career exploration events
college tour events
mental health event

Igniting Leadership

When young adults join Spark the Journey, they commit to developing skills, growing networks, and pursuing opportunities that will serve them for life. Our alumni have gone on to become entrepreneurs, educators, lawyers, doctors, non profit executives, professional athletes, and more. We could not be prouder of the leadership they bring to their communities – and the mentorship they’re paying forward to future generations. Here are a few alumni who are the embodiment of igniting leadership.

Spark mentor and mentee in conversation
Bonnie and Diana Acosta
Keon Merritt speaking at podium

I would go to my mentor’s house every Sunday to play chess and have dinner with his family, so I had a birds-eye view of how he ran his home. He went to work every day, he worked hard, he was loving, he took care of his family, and he never showed any signs of aggression or violence. As I think back now, my relationship with my mentor is almost entirely where my idea of leadership comes from. He taught me that life is like chess. You have to be strategic, and always stay 3-4 moves ahead.

Keon MerrittAccount Executive, Co-Star Group | Spark Program Participant 2007–2011

Sparking Change

Both the workforce and higher education landscapes have been shifting in recent years, in ways that are certain to impact our program participants. A “new collar” workforce is emerging, with an emphasis on technical skills over college degrees. Meanwhile, the cost of college is skyrocketing, and the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ban has rewritten the way Black and Brown students apply to schools.

Spark the Journey is committed to staying ahead of these trends and evolving with the needs of our young people. We are advocating with and for them across the District to ensure their voices are heard.

Tim Molino and Walter Fuente
Panelists speaking at event

Workforce Panel:
March 8, 2023

Spark the Journey hosted a discussion on new and evolving ways that schools, nonprofits, and local government can support young people’s pathways to economic mobility. We heard from D.C. Councilmember Robert White and a host of local leaders and experts in workforce preparation.

Two young women on stage speaking

D.C. Council Testimony:
April 5, 2023

Spark staff and program participants had the opportunity to testify before the D.C. Council, citing the benefits of mentorship for young adults’ college and career aspirations. For our participants, it was a valuable chance to engage directly with the local government.

Spark staff and alumna at Gala

30th Anniversary Gala:
April 26, 2023

In April, we gathered the Spark community to celebrate  30 years of igniting leadership and sparking change in D.C. Featured speakers included program participants, mentors, alumni, Spark team members, and Councilmember Will Jawando of Montgomery County.

Hayshlin Valenzuela & Jennifer Davidson

Participating in Spark has made a difference in my life because it provided me with a group of people who are constantly there to support me. I often have my mentor or coordinator reach out to me with different Spark events I can participate in or with resources that can be useful for me. I feel like I’ve been able to learn more about myself and what I want. I have learned through college tours that I have taken with my mentor, that I need more of a campus environment instead of different college buildings around the city. Overall, I’ve just been able to learn more about myself and this has helped me plan for my future.

HayshlinSpark High School Student

Expanding Our Reach

Spark the Journey is entering the second year of our three-year strategic plan, which spans fiscal years 2023-2025. This strategic plan expands our exit outcomes to include associate degrees and industry-recognized workforce development credentials in addition to bachelor’s degrees. Last year, we also revamped our branding, mission statement, and vision statement to better reflect our commitment to supporting young adults in not only earning a credential but also achieving economic mobility.

In our current fiscal year 2024, we are committed to supporting five key strategic priorities across the organization:

  • Removing students’ barriers to success
  • Implementing a fee-for-service model with new partners
  • Diversifying and growing our contributed revenue
  • Standardizing our internal and external processes
  • Diversifying outside of D.C. to at least one other metro
Ta’ Mia Lambright

Spark provided me with guidance throughout life. I can’t think of a chapter of my life where they weren’t involved. I remember attending so many workshops to help me transition into high school, so many conversations to motivate and encourage me toward college, and so many intimate relationships to help me through tough times. Financial support is why I selected Spark, but the village is why I stayed.

Ta’ Mia LambrightSpark Alum


Pie chart of 2023 financials with "Total: $3,877,496" displayed in the center

Direct Program Support






Management and General



Two Spark students on phones with shapes in background

Get Involved

Your continued support makes a lasting difference in the lives of young Black and Brown adults in D.C. As a member of the Spark community, you know the value of our work better than anyone. Consider expanding your impact by making a financial gift, connecting your employer as a partner, or becoming a mentor. Learn more by visiting our website.

Visit our Website
Spark Mentor and Mentee posing for photo

Our Leadership

Senior Leadership Team

Khari Brown
Khari Brown

President and CEO

Brandon White
Brandon White

Executive Director

Justine Quintana
Justine Quintana

Director of Programs

Danielle Tyler
Danielle Tyler

Director of Communications and Marketing

Lydia Bailey
Lydia Bailey

Director of Talent and Operations

Board of Directors

Theodore A. Schwab

Co-Founder & Chairman Emeritus
Founding Partner & Managing Director,
Steward Partners Global Advisory

The Honorable Mary K. Bush

Board Chair
President and Founder, Bush International, LLC

Carol Adelman, PH.D.

Director, The Hudson Institute Center for Global Prosperity

John A. Bates

Partner, Potomac Equity Partners

Cathy Bernasek

Independent Consultant, Nonprofit Sector

Gina Coburn


J. Warren Gorrell, Jr.

CEO Emeritus and Partner, Hogan Lovells

Margot Machol Bisnow

Author, Raising an Entrepreneur

Brian Naumick

Managing Director and Vice President,
Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate

Charles Rossotti

Senior Advisor, The Carlyle Group

Macani Toungara

Director, Social and Environmental Responsibility,
Dell Technologies

General (Ret) Dennis Via

Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton

Ambassador Michael M. Wood

Chairman, Redwood Investments, LLC

Mentor and mentees sat on high chairs laughing

School Partners

  • Bard High School Early College DC
  • Benjamin Banneker Academic High School
  • Capital City Public Charter School
  • Cesar Chavez Parkside High School
  • Columbia Heights Education Campus
  • McKinley Technology High School
  • Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School

Our Corporate Partners

Our Donors

  • Charles and Barbara Rossotti
  • Office of the State Superintendent of Education
  • 1 Anonymous Donor
  • Ceres Foundation
  • D.C. Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes
  • Michael and Kathryn Hanley
  • Sunrise Foundation
  • Michael and Judith Wood
  • Capital One
  • Peter and Teresa Clare
  • Philip L. Graham Fund
  • The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation
  • The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
  • The Volgenau Foundation
  • Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation
  • 1 Anonymous Donor
  • Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
  • John and Karen Bates
  • Cathy and Brian Bernasek
  • Bloomberg Industry Group
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Scott and Patrice Brickman
  • CityBridge Foundation
  • Clark Construction Group, LLC
  • CliftonLarsonAllen Foundation
  • Gina and Brooke Coburn
  • David and Elizabeth Ford
  • Georgetown University
  • Warren and Catherine Gorrell
  • Harman Family Foundation
  • Joey Kaempfer
  • David and Barbara Lipman
  • Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs (MOLA)
  • Paula Miller
  • S&R Evermay Foundation
  • Scheidel Foundation
  • Share Fund
  • Brian and Stephanie Spector
  • Meredith and Martin Sumner
  • T. Rowe Price
  • The Herb Block Foundation
  • The Richard E. & Nancy P. Marriott Foundation
  • Charlie Thomas
  • Mike Wood Jr. and Jennifer Wood
  • 1 Anonymous Donor
  • Ken and Dr. Carol Adelman
  • Crowell & Moring Foundation
  • Philip Dolan
  • Dwoskin Family Foundation
  • Elliott Ferguson and Telesa Via
  • Cynthia A. and Leonard M. Glassman
  • Hilton Hotels Corporation
  • Jewish Federation of Cleveland
  • Burks Lapham
  • Guy Molinari
  • Donna Morea and Jeff Chandler
  • Paul and Chandler Tagliabue
  • Venable Foundation
  • General Dennis and Linda Via
  • Mia and Tim Bass
  • Marvin Bush and Margaret Conway Molster
  • John Campbell
  • Dorothea and Charles Clark
  • Kayode Dada
  • Deloitte
  • David Dempsey and Sarah Albertson
  • Renato and Pat DiPentima
  • Thomas and Annette Dircks
  • Olugbenga Erinle
  • Claire and Jake Farver
  • Prentiss and Gail Feagles
  • Marilyn and Michael Glosserman
  • Patrick and Sheila Gross
  • Kelly and Sean Hafner
  • Nicholas and Kimberly Hayman
  • Hundred Fold Foundation
  • Daniel Kaplan and Kay Richman
  • Nancy Keener
  • Robert Kogod
  • Tanya and Hudson La Force
  • Laird Youth Leadership Foundation
  • Charles Levy and Yvonne Zoomers
  • Margot Machol Bisnow and Mark Bisnow
  • Fred and Britlan Malek
  • Janet and Gary McDavid
  • Governor John Mckernan and Senator Olympia Snowe
  • Meg Merrifield and Fabrice Souchaud
  • Keon Merritt
  • Thomas Monahan and Sharon Marcil
  • Elise and Steven Museles
  • Laurence Platt and Clare Herington
  • Thomas Pyle and Bijal Parikh
  • Liz and Dave Roberts
  • Theodore and Claire Schwab
  • Synoptic Engineering
  • W. Edward and Carole Walter
  • Aaron Zimmerman
  • 4 Anonymous Donors
  • William Alexander
  • Nancy Altman
  • Fred Ansell
  • Frank and Georgine Anton
  • Matthew Bando
  • Robert and Nancy Bloch
  • Janet Bond
  • Alice Domar
  • ECS Tech
  • Barrett Evans and Claudia Vitale
  • Paul and Lynne Farrell
  • Wayne F. Forte
  • Akin and Allison Harrison
  • Catherine Hren
  • William Janes
  • Nicholas Karzon
  • Harrison Laird
  • Elizabeth Owusuwaa
  • Casey Riley
  • Richard and Joanne Rome
  • Mittie and Curtis Rooney
  • Patricia Stewart
  • The Ruth H Kemp Memorial Foundation
  • Roger and Diane Warin
  • Amanda Brannan
  • Lydell Bridgeford
  • Jeffrey Chance
  • Michael Cooperman and Maria Schiff
  • Stephanie Demperio
  • Elizabeth Ehinger
  • Anne Evans and Bill Wallace
  • Des Hogan and Mindy Holmes
  • Subash John
  • Curtis Kemp
  • Angie Lotfi
  • Ned and Betsy Mandel
  • Georgianna and Stacy McGuire
  • G. Ray McPhatter
  • Jerry Rehm
  • Nancy Rhodes
  • Richard Schreiber
  • Mary Beth Schultz
  • Mark and Elizabeth Spoto
  • Emma Stewart
  • Sister Mary Frances Taymans
  • Lauren Tindall
  • Tamia Ward-Blakley and Benjamin Blakely
  • Briana Whatcott
  • Brandon White and Devon Ahearn
  • 4 Anonymous Donors
  • Diana and Bonnie Acosta and Family
  • Kaveri Advani
  • Jonathan Amos
  • Arlene and Bob Begelman
  • Virginia and Jack Bell
  • Mary Bender
  • Christopher Bonner
  • Khari Brown and Yasemin Washington Brown
  • Dorry and Julian Brown
  • Faye and Chuck Cascio
  • Casey Church
  • Anya Clifford
  • Tracy Cooper
  • Laurie Corkey
  • KC Davis
  • Lowell and Virginia Denning
  • Paul Diaz
  • Vi Diep
  • Tien Dinh
  • Karen Dresden
  • Michael Dunn
  • Christopher Dwyer
  • Jacob Elliott
  • Grace Elliott
  • Janis Evans
  • Patrick Farrell
  • Ninma Fearon
  • Anthony F. Fernicola
  • Sarah Ferris
  • Vicki Fleming
  • Kathryn Franck
  • Tyler Frederick
  • Anmarie Gaalaas
  • Sarn Gabriel Bien-Aime
  • Antoine and Carol Garibaldi
  • Carole Garner
  • Micahael Grafenreed
  • Jamari Green
  • Kristine Gregoire-Cope
  • Nausicaa Halkias Stoltz
  • Felix Hamilton
  • James Hawkins
  • Dominic Hawkins
  • Carroll Hebron
  • Ellen Heiman
  • Tonya Henry
  • Sandra Herndon and Alexandra Woodruff
  • Nia Hill
  • Christine Hoisington
  • Shi-Hsia Hwa
  • William Jawando
  • Valarie Johnson
  • Thomas Johnson
  • Kent Killelea
  • Alan Lau
  • Mary Ellen Matheson
  • Lisa Mattler
  • Denesha Miller
  • David Miller
  • Anne Muindi-Shemenski
  • Jesseca Myers
  • Jason Najjoum
  • Shannon Oesch
  • Vineet Pahuja
  • Allison Parker-Fahey
  • LaJuan Pedro
  • Seneca Peklo
  • Nancy Polikoff
  • Margaret Poppe
  • Sharon Prince
  • Marcus Ransom
  • Candace Ridgway
  • John Roman
  • Zachary Rowe
  • Paul Rubio
  • Mary Ryan
  • Allison Solomon
  • Daniel Stein
  • Claudia Taubman
  • Ebony Thomas
  • Michael Thomas
  • Catherine Traini
  • Tracey Twyman
  • Sandrine Uwera
  • Georga Waldron
  • Sherrod Williams
  • James Williams II
  • Lashaun York
  • 7 Anonymous Donors