To purchase photos visit×

Spark Finale Highlights Students’ Achievements

Published: March 12, 2016

Song, dance, music, and theater together on Wednesday, March 2 were part of a closing ceremony to wrap up The Avielle Foundation’s Spark after school program winter semester. The afternoon at the NYA Sports & Fitness Center also included laughter, applause, and many thanks to students and volunteers.

Foundation co-founder Jeremy Richman, PhD, thanked the students who “got a lot out of” the programs, meant to build stronger minds, bodies, and connections, according to To the many parents gathered, he said that when he and his wife Jennifer Hensel “were faced with tragedy, we needed to do something to prevent violence.” Their daughter Avielle was a victim of 12/14.

The foundation has a “simple vision,” Dr Richman told guests. “We fund neuroscience research. We know more about the surface of the moon than what’s in here,” he said, pointing to his head. What factors create risks to a healthy brain? he asked. He spoke briefly about “emotional intelligence,” and a parent’s ability to detect problems in their children.

Spark plays its part in helping to grow emotional intelligence in the community, he said. Naming the school system, NYA, the foundation, and others, Dr Richman said, “We have a lot of people willing to help us out.”

“Spark can give children a chance to try new things with music, art, etc, where they can feel proud of what they have done,” Dr Richman said.

NYA Fitness Center Director Cody Foss soon handed out certificates of appreciation to volunteers.

Dr Richman said, “This could not have happened without a lot of volunteers.”

Local music teacher Joe Proc, who taught programming for Spark, then grabbed his guitar and waited as students readied their instruments behind him. To his right were other students getting ready to sing and dance to “Whipp Nae Nae,” a recent pop song.

According to the foundation website, the Spark program is a grass roots initiative provided as part of a multi-tier approach “to develop social-emotional learning (SEL), leadership, and compassion skills on communitywide basis and beyond.”

The information states, “The Avielle Foundation has been created to honor [Jeremy Richman’s and Jennifer Hensel’s] loving daughter — along with all the others who have fallen victim to senseless violence — by truly understanding what leads someone to engage in such harmful behavior. We’re working closely with world leaders in two vital areas: brain health research and community building.”

Spark began in last fall at the NYA Sports & Fitness Center and was the collaborative effort of Ben’s Lighthouse, NYA, and the Life is Good Playmakers. According to the foundation, “In this innovative program, we offered culturally diverse music, arts, and physical activities to 5th and 6th graders at the Reed Intermediate School. The 64 participating children were mentored in a ‘peer-down’ fashion by high school volunteers and were given a noncompetitive environment in which they could stretch the boundaries of their comfort zones. Professional musicians, coaches, artists, chefs, and physical education instructors led independent modules through which the children rotated in a fun and collaborative way.”

Visit the website to learn more about future programming.


Related Articles