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Natick - Local Town Pages

SPARKing Kindness In a Pandemic and Beyond

Aug 31, 2020 12:59PM ● By Susan Manning

Renata Bertelli, SPARK Board member and Core Energy Coach led a virtual program on August 6, “Train Your Brain to Get Unstuck”. Pictured, (left - right, top to bottom), Christine Guthery, SPARK Founder & Executive Director; Letitia Bynoe, ASL Interpreter from The Learning Center for the Deaf(TLC) in Framingham; Michele Marotta, SPARK Associate Executive Director; Dr. Kristen Aberle, SPARK Program Coordinator; Adiel Gutierrez, SPARK Volunteer, Tom Daly, SPARK Volunteer, and Renata Bertelli, program presenter.

The need for kindness doesn’t disappear just because there’s a pandemic. 

In fact, according to SPARK Founder and Executive Director, Christine Guthery, the need grows.

“As a team, we quickly realized the importance of adapting our SPARK model of programming to support the community in a new, virtual format. The need for connection, information, resources, and support was even greater and we worked hard to respond,” she said.

The resources they were able to offer were provided via its website, newsletter communication, and connecting with members online. 

“We continued to connect with our local members in Natick and the greater MetroWest region, and found that we were also reaching people from all over America, and the world, as our SPARK attendees shared information about our programs with friends and through social media. It has been a very busy summer, but it has also been very rewarding,” said Guthery.

Switching things up because of the pandemic worked well, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t miss the old normal.

“Although we have missed the chance to work in person with each other, our team is very flexible and creative and found new ways to connect. During our programs, we welcomed participants to our ‘Neighborhood.’ That is what it has felt like - a warm, welcoming place where people can come to feel seen and valued. Most importantly, our online ‘Neighborhood’ is a place where everybody belongs,” she explained.

With so much focus on the community, it’s often easy to put self-care on the back burner. But not in this case.

“One piece that has been very important is making space for our volunteers. SPARK Kindness really depends on a great deal of volunteer support and we have continued to value all our volunteers who serve as greeters, provide tech support, act as host, and serve in other important roles, even while we are apart. Our volunteers are more important than ever and we are working hard to continue to cultivate our great team,” said Guthery.

She said be it the community they help or their volunteer base, every action makes a difference.

“Every time we do something that helps a community grow more kind, resilient and welcoming, we SPARK Kindness. Together we can make sure no one feels alone,  bullied, unsupported, or unconnected—every day and especially in the most challenging times,” Guthery said.

To that end, SPARK programming this summer was robust. It ran its first summer program series, with several programs focusing on building a resilient community and parenting during a pandemic. 

“We had thousands of people register for the programs and feel grateful to have made many new connections over the summer and increased the members of our ‘SPARK Neighborhood,’” said Guthery.

The program topics, she said, addressed some of the most critical concerns that were servicing this summer. they wanted to maintain a community connection and grounding during a particularly trying time.

“In addition to providing the chance to hear from experts on topics like anxiety, technology, antiracism, hopefulness, and more, we also provided really comprehensive follow-up resources after each program to ensure that registrants had more to help them navigate their concerns,” she said.  

Following on the heels of such a successful summer program series, is the 2020 Fall Resilient Community Online Program. The series will feature a number of speakers on topics relevant to community members of all ages, including mental wellness, antiracism and inclusion, and the importance of self compassion and self care.

“During these uncertain times, kindness and connection have never been more important. … We will offer specific free programs for parents as part of our ‘Parenting During 

Pandemic’ series, to support the mental health and resilience of young people during this unprecedented time. In addition, we will be offering small parent/caregiver support groups via zoom to offer more individualized support for families,” explained Guthery.

Speakers include: Sebene Selassie, a Buddhist meditation expert and author of the recently released book, You Belong: A Call to Connection; Lynn Lyons, LICSW, psychotherapist, anxiety expert, and author of multiple books on anxiety, will return after being one of the most well-attended summer presenters; Dr. Lisa Damour, prior SPARK speaker, psychologist, best-selling author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls and tangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood.

Despite all the success The Natick organization saw during the pandemic, Guthery wants to forge ahead and do even more. She wants to reach more people.

 Renata Bertelli, SPARK Board member and Core Energy Coach during “Train Your Brain to Get Unstuck,” a virtual educational program hosted by SPARK Kindness on Aug. 6.

“SPARK believes that during difficult times, we have the opportunity to make an even greater positive impact in the lives of others. We welcome new members to our free programs so that we can support each other during this challenging time. We believe that this is the time to ‘lean in’ to our work of celebrating and including everyone by committing to our antiracism work, by caring for our neighbors and by caring for ourselves. We welcome you to join our ‘SPARK Neighborhood’ and to be part of the work of building a kinder, more connected community,” she said.  

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