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Community Catalyst

Mar 04, 2013 10:08AM ● Published by tina

Laura Hill sparks talk on tough topics facing Southlake's kids - Photo courtesy of BluDoor Studios

Laura Hill SPARKs Talk on Tough Topics

Six years ago, several Southlake leaders came together to aid a few teenagers in need. It prompted the question, “What is the city doing to help Southlake’s kids?” From that, Students and Parents Against Risks to Our Kids (SPARK) emerged, with the goal of fostering conversations amongst teens and adults about difficult issues. SPARK’s most recent event, held February 4th, drew over 800 people concerned over the difficult issues of stress, depression and suicide. Southlake Style sat down for a conversation with SPARK founder and former Southlake City Council member Laura Hill for a frank conversation about the challenges today’s teens face and what the city of Southlake is doing to help. Learn more about SPARK Now

Southlake Style: How did the idea for SPARK first come about back in 2007?

Laura Hill: Our mayor at the time, Andy Wambsganss, received a call from two Southlake families whose teenage daughters were in crisis. He immediately set up a meeting with the families and invited me to attend. At the time, I was heavily involved in Game Over, a pre-prom program held at the high school that dealt with the dangers of drinking and driving. Honestly, I went to the meeting thinking that I had little to offer the struggling families. Looking back, the road toward the SPARK we all know today started when one of the fathers asked us, “What is the city doing to help our kids?”

SS: What exactly is the goal of SPARK?

LH: It may sound trite but our goal is to “spark” conversation. We want to empower parents with the knowledge and resources needed to talk about tough subjects with their kids. Through our efforts over the past six years, we have noticed an amazing shift in our community, a new willingness to talk about the challenges of raising kids today. Parents are talking more honestly with other parents and admitting their family’s struggles. Young people are starting to ask for help not just for themselves but also for each other.

SS: So where does SPARK fit in the world of raising healthy children?

LH: SPARK links the entire community together in conversation with those on the frontline — our teachers, counselors, coaches and school-resource officers —often the first to see dangerous trends in the making.

SS: Was there a specific event that finally caused you to bring this idea to life? If so, what was it?

LH: Yes, I remember speaking with a 23-year-old girl who was eight months sober at the time. This beautiful young lady had been a great student and an outstanding athlete while growing up in Southlake. Despite her successes as a teenager, she found herself involved with drugs, alcohol and eventually crime. Sharing those experiences and realizing stories like these are more prevalent than we know really motivated me to make a difference.

SS: How did you put SPARK together? What resources did you look to as you were building the organization?

LH: In the planning stages, we depended greatly on the advice of experts who deal with children on a daily basis. We spent hours meeting with local doctors, therapists, police, pastors and educators. SPARK was and always will be successful because of the generous nature of our community leaders.

In getting the first meeting off the ground, I think asked everyone I know for input into the guiding principles of the organization. What resulted was a list of buzz-words on a legal pad. In creating the list, I realized we needed a name that could fit the ever-changing risks to our kids. As I’ve done many times before, I have to thank my coworker Brian who really brought our list to life by creating a logo and fabulous graphics for all of our brochures and flyers.

With everyone’s help our first SPARK meeting was a success. On that night, we gathered educators, parents, students, health professionals and youth ministers. The 40 or so of us, including Suzanne Maisto, who has been a great partner in this endeavor, agreed we needed to engage more of the community.  

SS: What a difference you have made in just a few years. SPARK’s last event packed the house and even received television news coverage. Tell us about how this particular event came about?

LH: The attendance was amazing. It was uplifting to see so many people starting to engage life’s tougher issues. It was a perfect example of the role SPARK can play.

After a year full of tragedies a group of Carroll students contacted their school counselor and asked for help in expressing the pain they were feeling and their deep concern for the struggles of their schoolmates. Carroll Counselors contacted Suzanne and I and asked if SPARK could help. The students met with us, along with their parents, and counselors to develop the evening’s program, one that would begin a discussion about teen depression, stress and suicide. The event was just the beginning of a conversation our parents and teens need to continue.

SS: What other types of events does the organization host? What makes them special? Why should parents and students attend?

LH: Thanks to our ever-developing volunteer network of local professionals, we have been able to gather around topics ranging from bullying, internet safety, sexting, drugs, alcohol, prescription pills, depression, driving dangers and eating disorders to name a few. Better still, all of our programs are free of charge. Depending on the topic and type of presentation, children are encouraged to attend with their parents; however, some of our meetings are for adults only.

We aim to educate, inform and empower parents and their kids to work through their problems together. 

SS: How does this latest event compare to the original events? In what ways has SPARK grown and gotten better?

LH: Our growth over the years has at times been a balancing act. We have tried to learn from our successes as well as our misses. There is a core group of parents that never miss a SPARK meeting but there is a much larger group that only attend for specific topics. The series of three Town Hall meetings on drug and alcohol abuse that we held this past September, October and November were heavily attended but we can’t always talk about just one or two issues.

SS: What events are on the horizon?

LH: Students have started to request meeting topics and we are dedicated to making them happen. Per their requests, our March 7 meeting will focus on sexually transmitted diseases. We will bring in a doctor from Cook Children’s Medical Center and encourage parents to attend with their high-school age children. To round out the school year, we will be working with the school district and department of public safety on a Game Over Pre-Prom safety program this May.

SS: How can concerned parents help SPARK?

LH: My advice for concerned parents is to stay up to date on our meeting topics and attend as much as they can. Our meetings vary, so it’s important to be on our email list or check our website SPARK Now often.

Photo Credit: BluDoor Studios

In Print, Today City of Southlake CISD SPARK laura hill andy wambsganss suzanne maisto

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