Prior to joining Vibes, Jen DeCilles had been working in online ad sales assisting business owners who sought to grow their client base. Despite shifting her focus to a new track, she’s seen significant overlap from her previous experience in the digital marketing space as a Vibes Customer Success Manager.
While serving as a trusted resource and partner to her clients is impactful, she sought ways beyond the workspace to continue her passion for developing valuable connections – fueling her interest in learning more about and participating in Chicago’s Spark Program.
Since 2012, Vibes has partnered with the Spark Program that seeks to connect middle school students from the south and west sides of Chicago with mentors in their respective professional workspaces. After three years of participating and serving as a program advocate, Jen has recently been named one of Spark’s Influencers of the Year, recognized as one of the most active leaders in the Chicago community and honored as the top individual fundraiser for the 2018 & 2019 Mentoring Matters Campaigns.
We sat down with Jen to talk about what inspires her work and why her dedication to the Spark Program continues to grow year after year.
Q: What is the Spark Program and how did you first hear about it?
A: The Spark Program connects business professional mentors and students to explore possible career options, discuss important themes (time management, networking, etc.) and work on a semester-long project that ties into the student’s interests and the mentor’s areas of expertise. I first heard about the Spark Program here at Vibes. One of my coworkers asked if I’d be interested in joining, and right away I said yes!
We’re really lucky to work for a company that not only supports volunteering and community engagement, but actively encourages it as well. This year, I’ve taken over as the Vibes ambassador to Spark, and am so excited to be bringing in 7 new volunteers to work with the program.
Q: As one of the most active leaders in the Chicago community, how is your participation with the program rewarding? What draws you back year after year?
A: I’m sure most Chicagoans can relate when I say one of the biggest barriers to becoming a regular volunteer is transportation. Pretty often, the location requires an expensive ride share, or a long trip on the CTA that includes walking and navigating an unfamiliar area. Spark removes this from the equation by bringing the students to us at our workplace.
More importantly, Spark opens students’ eyes to what’s possible. A lot of these kids are only a few miles from the Vibes office, but their environments are so different than where most of my coworkers and I live and work. For some students, it’s their first time visiting a corporate building and hearing how many different career paths exist. Last year, the students were blown away that not everyone in our office was in IT – they’d heard Vibes was “tech” and imagined all of us fixing computers! And I think that’s huge – helping a young person realize that there’s a vast pool of options for them to find a career that matches their passions and talents.
Q: What is the most memorable aspect of your involvement with the Spark Program? Can you share any notable moments?
A: The balance of freedom and structure really sticks out to me. There’s not a single week we’re doing the exact same thing, but there’s still a general framework that’s followed. We usually start with an icebreaker, then discuss different social, emotional & educational buzzwords (such as teamwork, prioritization, etc.) and help the students apply them to real-life situations. This is followed by 1:1 student-mentor time to work on the semester-long project that ties into the student’s interests and the mentor’s areas of expertise.
This design gives students room to make the experience valuable and interesting for themselves without deviating from the mission of the program. It’s so much fun to take a student’s passion and figure out how to turn it into a project. I’ve made a storyboard for an animated music video as well as a mobile game for pilots-in-training!
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring mentors?
Just be yourself and show up for your student every week with the intention to genuinely connect & have fun!
Jen’s involvement with the Spark Program serves as a testament to our focus of bringing our core values to life by deepening our impact within the community. On March 5th, Jennifer DeCilles will be honored at Spark’s annual fundraising event “Ignite the Night.” If you’re interested in joining the celebration or learning more about the event, click here.
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