About Us

SparkAction is a collaborative journalism and advocacy network to mobilize action by and for young people.

Mission  |  Our Partners  |  StaffContact |   Job Openings

There's no shortage of important information and stories, and it can be hard to stay on top of what matters and get the full picture. SparkAction's site and e-newsletters are your one-stop shop for news and tools to make a difference in the lives of children and youth. We gather, synthesize and promote the best information on a range of child and youth issues across the development spectrum, from organizations and leaders across the country.




Our Mission

As an online journalism and advocacy center by and for the child and youth field, SparkAction's site and e-newsletters aim to:

  1. Connect concerned adults and young people—whether they’re new to the issues or already activists—to compelling stories, context and accurate information on children’s issues, as well as tools to take action, from volunteering to advocating for better policies and programs.
  2. Help child- and youth-focused organizations effectively reach a broad audience (the public, professional peers, and policymakers) with their content and materials.
  3. Elevate the voices and perspectives of young people themselves.
  4. Break down silos in the broad child and youth field and strengthen connections among organizations and agencies to create a stronger, unified voice for children and youth.

SparkAction  gives visitors stories, information and tools to learn about a range of issues and to take action to improve policies and programs, and, ultimately, the fabric of our nation as a whole.

SparkAction is managed by the Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit "action tank" and the founder of the Ready by 21 initiative. Here's the story of how we were created.

Our Partners

We work in partnership with over 150 organizations across the country. Some are small local groups, some are large national organizations; all have the well-being of children and youth as their central mission.

We are also members of the following affiliate organizations:

The Children's Leadership Council is a coalition of more than 50 leading policy and advocacy organizations that are working every day to improve the health, education and well-being of children and youth in order to prepare them for school, work, and life.

The National Collaboration for Youth (NCY) is a 40-year old coalition of the National Assembly member organizations that have a significant interest in youth development. Its mission is to provide a united voice as advocates for youth to improve the conditions of young people in America, and to help young people reach their full potential. NCY's members include more than 50 national, nonprofit, youth development organizations. Collectively, its members serve more than 40 million young people, employ over 100,000 paid staff and more than six million volunteers and have a physical presence in virtually every community in America. 

The Campaign for Youth (CFY) is an alliance of organizations concerned about the persistence, yet seeming invisibility, of the challenges confronting young people in America who are disconnected from education, employment and opportunity. Established in 2002 by the leadership of national youth-serving organizations, CFY works to build a united voice for disadvantaged youth in this nation by raising awareness about their needs and advocating for the expansion of opportunities and supports that prepare youth for their future roles as workers, parents, civic leaders and engaged members of caring communities. 

In addition, our Launch Partners help spread the word about SparkAction and how it can help...

Our Audience

We serve a wide audience, ranging from professional child advocates to parents to policymakers and young people. We also reach health care professionals, journalists, researchers, grandparents, guardians, and others. Periodically we conduct surveys of our visitors and subscribers. Help us help you - you don't have to wait for a survey to tell us about yourself and how you use SparkAction. What do you use and what do you need?

Our Staff

Caitlin Johnson, Co-Founder & Managing Editor

CJ SparkAction

A writer and journalist, Caitlin specializes in child and youth issues and the impact of public policy on families and communities. She is a strong believer in the power of creative technologies to engage and move audiences, and to create an authentic platform for youth voice and youth-led movement building. This passion led her to co-found SparkAction.org, a journalism and advocacy platform to mobilize action for and by young people; she serves as its director.

Caitlin has written for City Limits, Yahoo News, Nation's Cities Weekly, KidsHealth and numerous other outlets, and has been a Casey Journalism Fellow. Caitlin has worked as a technical writer and editor in the areas of social policy, the environment, and sustainable development; assisted the Center for Law and Social Policy with its communications strategy and materials as interim director; and written for Sen. Leahy's Displaced Children & Orphans Fund and War Victims Fund. She has also taught English and creative writing to eighth graders in a Washington, DC, public middle school, and organized a nationally competitive youth poetry slam team. Caitlin holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoynes Fellow and received a Poe Fellowship; her fiction has appeared in Five PointsGargoyle and other journals.

Thaddeus Ferber, Co-Founder

Thaddeus Ferber Spark Action

Thaddeus works in bi-partisan fashion to promote evidence-based policies that help communities achieve collective impact for all youth (especially those disconnected from school and work) and that incorporate youth voices. On the federal level, he drafted policy recommendations that were adopted by the White House Task Force for Disadvantaged Youth in the George W. Bush administration, and recommendations that were adopted by the White House Council for Community Solutions in the Obama Administration. He helped to orchestrate National Youth Summits for the George W. Bush and Obama administrations; to craft the Federal Youth Coordination Act, which created an interagency council to align federal efforts for children and youth (signed by President George W. Bush); and to build legislation to create Performance Partnership Pilots, which enable communities to blend fragmented federal programs in innovative ways to help disconnected youth (signed by President Obama).
In partnership with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Gap Inc., Thaddeus launched the Opportunity Youth Network, bringing together the nation’s leading corporations, foundations, nonprofits and young people to reconnect young people who are not in school and not employed. His efforts to promote evidence-based policymaking include leading several learning groups composed of researchers and government officials.
Thaddeus joined the Forum in 1998. Before that, he worked at the President’s Crime Prevention Council during the Clinton administration, the Stanford Center on Adolescence, the John Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities, the HOME Afterschool Project in Alameda, Calif., and ELEM, a nonprofit for runaway, homeless and neglected Israeli and Arab youth. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Youth Development and Policy from Stanford University. His honors include the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship, the Capitol Advantage Civic Award, the Mobilize 08 Award and the Champion of Juvenile Justice Award. 


Janaisa Walker, Spring 2016 Fellow Sanji Downing, summer 2016 Intern 

Janaisa Walker Spark ActionJanaisa Walker, the SparkAction Journalism and Advocacy Fellow Spring-Summer 2016,is currently a senior at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, a public high school. In the fall, she will become the first member of her family to attend college.






Sanji Downing, summer 2016 Intern  

Sanji Downing Spark ActionBorn and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Sanji is a rising sophomore at Buffalo State college pursuing a B.S. in mathematics. She has experience working with nonprofits like the Red Hook Initiative, where she participated as a mentor and trainer in a range of programs. Sanji is passionate about youth empowerment, as well as LGBTQ rights and acceptance in every aspect of culture and society. When not working, Sanji is interested in reading, dancing, and watching movies, and trying new restaurants. Her goals is to one day also create her own nonprofit that centers around youth and education, while also incorporating her passion for traveling. (She’s working on the details.).


Dina Atwa, summer 2016 Intern

Dina Atwa Spark Action Dina attends SUNY Oneonta, where she is a rising junior and double-majoring in psychology and art. Dina is a first-generation college student and is determined to graduate with her B.A. and be accepted into a prestigious graduate school for art therapy. She is particularly interested in the intersection of health, money and education and how those complex dynamics affect the lives and futures of youth. A believer in the power of arts to heal and connect – and someone who benefited from a local nonprofit herself – Dina’s dream is to eventually open a nonprofit organization called “Second Chance” to provide underserved children with art therapy and a creative environment.  You can see some of Dina’s artwork on her independent website, dinaatwa.wordpress.com.




Jazmine Johnson, Editorial & Social Media Associate

Jazmine Johnson Spark ActionBorn and raised in Silver Spring, MD., Jazmine is a graduate of Towson University with a B.A. in Communication with a concentration in Journalism. Her primary style of journalism is photojournalism. She has had internship experience with the Baltimore Sun and has also worked as an assistant photo editor for Towson’s independent newspaper, The Towerlight. An avid user of social media, Jazmine can be found tweeting, blogging and sharing photos on a number of platforms. Her goals include creating her own magazine centered on art and culture, as well as finding ways to indulge her passion for travel photography. When she isn’t talking endlessly about music, she is dishing about the best restaurants in DC. She joined Spark Action in 2014 to provide content support and coordinate our social media.

Alison Waldman, Contributing Writer

Alison Waldman Spark ActionAlison is an independent writer, dancer, photographer and graphic designer based in Washington D.C. She worked full-time with SparkAction as editorial associate for three years before launching her freelance business in which she teaches, researches, performs and collaborates with organizations and individuals in DC and beyond. In addition to working on other various projects, Alison currently performs with the Contradiction Dance company based in Brookland. See Alison's work at www.alisonwaldman.com.


Shawnice Jackson, Editorial & Engagement Specialist

Shawnice Jackson Spark ActionShawnice Jackson is a young nonprofit professional commit- ted to building better and stronger pathways to opportunity for underserved and at-risk youth through mentoring, service, and advocacy. She started her undergraduate career as a criminology and social deviance major at Notre Dame of Maryland University but transferred to University of Baltimore to pursue her passion for communities and nonprofits as a human services administration major. Shawnice currently serves as a consultant for the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice (MOCJ) and The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions. She also serves as an advisory board member with The Opportunity Youth Network, a member of the National Council of Young Leaders, continued council member with The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund and opportunity leader with Opportunity Nation.

Shawnice’s areas of expertise are nonprofits, youth development, and qualitative data management. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she has served as a data collection manager with University of Maryland, project coordinator for Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents, a Baltimore Rising program, volunteer and provider relations coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, and case manager for the MOCJ. Shawnice was recently invited to speak at the Corporation for National and Community Service’s 20th anniversary celebration and keynoted the 2014 Service Learning and Civic Engagement Conference. She continues to give of her personal time in support of the well- being of young people in her community as a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children with CASA Baltimore City and volunteer Big Sister. She currently leverages her unique skill set as post-high school individualized services manager at Thread, a Baltimore- based nonprofit that engages under-performing high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom. In this role, she directly advocates and case manages Thread’s opportunity youth population in  crises.

Max Miller, Editorial & Engagement Support

Max Miller Spark actionMax Miller is primarily a video producer and graphic designer who specializes in 2D digital artwork, video and voiceover projects. He is also interested in content strategy and website and social media metrics. Before heading to college, he served as an intern with SparkAction and he now provides content management and video support to the team, while also working as an independent video and design consultant based in the Washington, DC area.


Amy Harfeld, Policy & Partnership Outreach Consultant

Amy Harfeld lends her expertise to SparkAction's partnerships and policy work, with a focus on child advocacy and juvenile justice and #RaisetheAge efforts. She is the National Policy Director/Senior Staff Attorney with the Children's Advocacy Institute. Harfeld has been an advocate, educator, and public interest attorney for over 15 years. She has she prosecuted child abuse and neglect cases for New York City’s Children’s Services, and served for three years as the Executive Director of First Star, a national child welfare non-profit in Washington D.C. Amy holds a JD from the City University of New York School of Law

Jennifer Wheary, Founder & Co-Editor, First to Finish College

jennifer Wheary Spark ActionJennifer is a senior fellow with the policy organization Demos and writes regularly about education and economic opportunity for a wide variety of national publications. She is founder and co-editor of First to Finish College, a joint Demos-SparkAction media and research project dedicated to supporting first generation college students and the organizations that serve them.

Prior to joining Demos, Jennifer worked in the academic, non-profit, and private sectors. She consulted for schools in South America, designed and launched a successful online science journal, co-founded an adult literacy program, helped build a new business division at an Internet startup, and headed interactive research for the largest Spanish-language media company in the U.S. A first-generation college student herself, Jennifer holds a B.S. from Cornell University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Alleen Barber, Managing Editor, First to Finish College

Alleen Barber is a former op-ed editor and deputy editorial page editor for Newsday in New York. Before coming to Newsday's opinion section in 2000 as a production assistant, she was the managing editor at United Features Syndicate. Alleen attended Haverford College and holds an MA in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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