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The Pulse: Spark In The Dark Takes Steps To Move Away From Facebook

Promo Image: The Pulse: Spark In The Dark Takes Steps To Move Away From Facebook

A week or so ago I was reading a post on Facebook that turned in to a thread on how people have helped strangers in moments where they needed it. Many of the comments were from people who have helped others in line at the grocery store, with the bulk of stories involving a mother who was not going to have enough money for diapers or dinner to feed her children. A comment on the post encouraged people to “Do Good Recklessly.” The comment wasn’t encouraging people to be reckless with their behavior, rather, to do good and not worry if your good deeds were going to the right person or were going to be received at the right time. Do good without thinking too hard about it. The idea of doing good just because is embodied by local community Facebook group Spark in the Dark, and Abagail Courtney is going to make sure the group will be able to help others for years to come.

Spark in the Dark board members. From left Jared McKiernan, Abagail Courtney, Jenn Donohue, Jennifer Morneau, Andrew Morneau.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Abagail on Tuesday. Abagail is the founder and executive director of Spark and she’s proud of how far the group has come since its birth in 2015. The inspiration to start Spark came when Abagail was in a bible study class.

“To the left of me were these women who wanted to volunteer. They were filling out all this paperwork, background checks, and licenses and weekend trainings that take hours and hours and then she ended up on her first volunteer day, I think it was stocking food pantry items. She found out she really won’t get to meet any direct clients because of HIPPA policies and all of these rules and restrictions. It becomes a process instead of a connection.”

To Abagail’s right was another set of women, an older and younger woman. The young woman was telling the older woman about being freshly out of an abusive relationship and finally getting in to her first tiny, shoe box apartment on her own.

“She told the woman, ‘I’m sleeping on the floor with a pillow and a blanket. There’s nothing in my house and I don’t even care!’ And this established woman she’s talking to tells her that she’s had a twin bedroom set sitting in her garage for years, and she’ll have her husband drop it off to her tomorrow.”

Spark in the Dark gardening volunteers.

The young woman was moved by the older woman’s kindness, and so was Abagail. Abagail went home that night and had what she calls The God Dream. In the dream she was told to connect people. Abagail woke up the next morning and knew that she would utilize the internet to be the medium for connection.

“I put this group together of 50 people. 25 I knew that need help and 25 I knew that had the means to help but maybe hadn’t considered that they could help somebody. I put them all in this group together.”

When Abagail woke up the next morning around 350 people had already requested to join Spark in the Dark. Today, there are almost 10,000 members.

Many people have benefited from Spark in the Dark in a huge way. People have received furniture, baby needs and even propane from reaching out in the group. The rules are simple; take what you need not what you want, be specific in what you need, explain why you need it and state your general location. Spark in the Dark ranges within a 60 mile radius of Traverse City.

Spark in the Dark filed to become a nonprofit in 2017. Because of the group’s popularity, people started donating money to the group knowing that the money would help someone somewhere, and Abagail decided that it was time for Spark in the Dark to become a real nonprofit.

Because Spark in the Dark is on Facebook, it is subjected to Facebook’s rules. Recently another popular, local Facebook group, Overheard in TC, got frozen out by Facebook because of a broken community guideline. Someone had advertised animals for sale on the page and because this goes against Facebook community page guidelines, the page is under review. Abagail does not want this scenario to happen in Spark in the Dark, which is why she is taking steps to develop a platform that gets the group off Facebook.

“We have created a culture the best we can within Facebook, but it was always meant to be kind of a pilot, right? It was testing a theory, and now we realize that we’ve made an entirely new model and an entire new way of doing things.”

Approving every member and post that will go up in Spark in the Dark is a long and tedious process that Abagail and her fellow admins Jennifer Donohue and Jennifer Morneau have to do to keep the group community oriented. With the platform, which will be in the form of a smartphone app, that process will be easier and more streamlined.

“With 10,000 members and 13,000 posts a year and 149,000 comments over the course of the year…trying to manage all of that, even with the three of us it’s a lot. Not to mention, Facebook is making a lot of money off of us with marketing and everything else.”

Phase 1 of developing the Spark in the Dark app is completed. The app will connect users just like the community Facebook page does, but with the added benefit of being able to track what people need most. Abagail will have access to data from the Spark in the Dark app that will help her and Spark a lot.

“There will be a sort of net built into the app that will be able to tell me 7,336 people asked for car repair needs this year in the area. Now nonprofits and grant givers like Rotary and the United Way will be able to look at that data and know where to direct their grants.”

Spark in the Dark is working with TC New Tech and M5fourteen Consulting to produce the app.  The basic design of the app is laid out and Abagail has an idea of what it will look like. Phase 2, the digital prototype, will be creating the app so it’s clickable and usable.

“It takes a lot of manpower to create something usable that makes sense for our members.”

Spark in the Dark is raising money for the digital prototype of the app and hopes it will be ready to use for members within a year, however, the timeline is dependent on securing enough donors to fund the app. The third phase of the prototype will be adding the plugins to the app so that it will be equipped to run on people’s phones. Abagail also hopes that the app can become something that is a fixture in communities all over the U.S., not just Northern Michigan.

“We are genuinely the first of our kind that we have found across the U.S. and I spend lots of time scouring.”

Spark in the Dark is a positive force in our community that impacts people’s lives and will only get bigger, better and potentially help community members all over the U.S.

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