Elk River has developed quite a reputation for its compassion over the years.
I have always contested that if people in this community know of a need, they will figure out how to meet it. If there’s a worthwhile cause, they will do what they can to support it. If it’s just a matter of rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, they will often do that, too. People often struggle, however, with how to say thank you when people’s actions have profound impacts on them or something even larger than just them.
It’s helpful for people to be aware of the difference they are making in others’ lives. Letting someone know — before it’s time to write a eulogy — strengthens the bonds people have with one another and humanity in general. How many times do we say to ourselves I never knew some particular aspect about someone until after they passed away, and we wished we had. Often we wished we had let them know something about ourselves and what it meant when they did something for us to later live with a painful tinge of regret.
I think the fragile state of human capital needs a shot in the arm and for people to realize how the good that they do deeply impacts those around them. The result will not only make people feel better about themselves but leave them with a compulsion to pay it forward.
In a couple of weeks, the Star News will bring you a story of one Elk River’s man hope and dream to make it easier for people to recognize those who make a difference in their lives. I don’t want to give it away, but I do want to set the stage by relating the story of Sparky that was given to me.
Sparky could never have imagined her destiny in 1980, at the age of 37. It appeared she had all the things that most people dream about. She was married for 18 years, mom to two amazing preteen sons, had a very successful career, owned a luxury car and lived in a magnificent home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
She always seemed so upbeat. No one really knew how she felt inside. Bullied, intimidated and verbally abused by her husband for nearly two decades, she felt like a complete failure and contemplated suicide on a daily basis.
On the very day she was going to complete a suicide attempt, she heard a voice inside whisper: “You cannot take your life. You’re here to make a difference. One day you will sing, dance, write and star in a musical on Broadway in New York City.”
This voice was an angelic miracle. Suddenly a new-found energy flooded her body. Like a small excited child, she ran to her husband and neighbor, telling them that she wanted to put her real estate career on the back burner so she could sing, dance, write and one day star in a musical on Broadway in New York City.
Instead of being excited for her, they flatly told her she was crazy, too old to be a dancer and couldn’t even carry a tune. She didn’t listen to them and auditioned for a musical comedy in San Diego along with 17- to 23-year-old professionals who performed on Las Vegas and Broadway stages. Sparky sang so horribly off key that everyone could not stop laughing. Despite that, she landed the role – not because she could sing, but because they thought she was a comedian. During rehearsals, she discovered a talent for helping young people make their dreams come true.
Inspired by her new life, the next month, Sparky filed for divorce, moved out of their million-dollar home and resigned her million-dollar real estate career in search for a way to make a difference.
In 1980 she created the now world-famous “Who I Am Makes A Difference” Blue Ribbon and 7-Step Acknowledgment Ceremony, a tool that has ended violence, eradicated bullying, averted adolescent suicide, enhanced health, raised self-worth and helped make dreams come true.
Sparky is fulfilling her dream. In 1983, she founded Difference Makers International, a nonprofit organization, building communities where all people would know that who they are made a difference. She wrote, produced, directed and performed her musical on Broadway in downtown San Diego, California, with a cast of 150 Miss Teen America Contestants. Her music was played on ABC’s “20/20.”
At the age of 74, Sparky is now CEO of Ignite What’s Right and Blue Ribbon Worldwide to support her dream for 1 billion people to be honored with a “Who I Am Makes A Difference” Blue Ribbon and 1 billion dreams to come true by 2020. And, of course, before her 100th birthday, her dream is to tell this true story and perform it in a musical on Broadway in New York City – reminding us all that we are never too old to make our dreams come true.
Stay tuned for how this difference maker is connected to Elk River and how Elk River will be connected to her cause. I think Elk Riverites will find it right up their alley. — Jim Boyle, editor