We had the good fortune of connecting with Brooke Wheeldon-Reece and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Brooke, what matters most to you?

Integrity. I was always taught integrity meant – Do what you say and say what you do, full stop. My parents taught me from a very early age the importance of keeping your word, being responsible and above all being honest. I wore this as a badge of honor- be honest no matter the cost. In my 20’s, at the start of my career, I had a job with purpose but a boss that wasn’t transparent or honest and he definitely didn’t walk his talk. This formed a culture of people who gossiped, rolled their eyes behind backs, stepped over each other to gain attention and worst of all to me, smiled while doing it. I spent 4 years with this company and in the end, my honesty got me fired from a job I absolutely loved. I questioned myself a lot- Was I too honest? Was there such a thing as too much integrity? I spent the next decade searching for a job equally as fulfilling and inspiring. If I would’ve known it would take 10 years to find that kind of passion again, I’m not sure I would have put my stake in the ground of integrity. In hindsight that experience guides me every day as a leader of my company, family, and relationships.

Since then, my definition of integrity has expanded and deepened. To me, it is more important that I am living in integrity to myself – In alignment with my current value system and that the people around me know what is true for me. Also, as a leader, it is equally as important to me that my team has the space and courage to live in their unique integrity as well. Finally, and probably most helpful, I have come to realize that value systems are as fluid as time. People’s views and priorities change and with that organizations that house those people have an obligation to be responsive to those changes. Sometimes they work and grow together beautifully and sometimes they require separation – both are ok. My experience has shown me that what holds people and organizations back the most, is the fear behind what being in integrity to yourself will mean for your bottom line – whether it be in your relationships, your career, or your finances. The tradeoff for being authentically you and being honest with others about what that means for them, can look like an exchange you can’t afford. But I have seen time and time again, what there is to gain beyond that fear is invaluable. The connection with people that comes in conjunction with living in integrity with yourself is an asset and skillset no amount of money or schooling can cultivate. People, whether it be customers, donors, colleagues, staff, friends or family naturally gravitate toward authenticity because they crave it as well. We all want to be allowed to be our human, messy selves.

My favorite quote is from Marianne Williamson and encapsulates this for me perfectly.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What should our readers know about your business?

I am the president and CEO of The SPARK Initiative, Inc. (SPARK) – a non-profit organization located in Tampa, FL. dedicated to working with at-risk youth, sex trafficking survivors, and incarcerated juveniles, men, women and veterans. At SPARK, we cultivate human potential and resiliency, through education, mentoring & coaching centered on an understanding of the mind that SPARKs innate mental health. After my brother in law’s suicide in early 2012, I knew there was more to the mind than I understood so I went looking for it. At the time, The SPARK Initiative was in the beginning stages of teaching Mental Health Education to young people, and I was invited to be in one of their trainings. I found my home with SPARK after watching my husband come out of a deep depression with seemingly little effort through this simple but profound understanding of the mind. Today, we teach the most vulnerable population how their mind works and how a deeper understanding can unleash anyone’s unbreakable SPARK inside. The SPARK Initiative is most widely known for their evidence based and CASEL approved, SPARK Mentoring Programs which are currently being taught in schools across the US and in 12 countries around the world. In 2021 3, peer-reviewed, journal articles were published on the efficacy of the SPARK programs and the mental health education in which it is founded. We are also the co-creators of the SPARKING Insight to Wellbeing program that teaches the same Mental Health Education to incarcerated adults and sex trafficking survivors.

What sets us apart?
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Early in my studies and understanding of the mind, whenever a fellow classmate would question why a troubling event occurred in their life or why something that looked really challenging in the forefront, would suddenly fall into place when they least expected, my teacher and mentor Michael Neill, would repeat this phrase “there is a kindness to the design.” I don’t know exactly what he meant every time but what I heard was: In the design of life, there is a soft pillow at the bottom of each hard fall waiting to catch you- EVERY-SINGLE-TIME. The words and the sentiment were nice, but I wouldn’t realize the depth and truth of the statement for a few years.

Sitting across from my husband one night at dinner we began to look at how far we had come in a few short years. There was a period after my brother-in-law’s suicide, I didn’t think he would recover but there we were 2 years later, living with more love of life and peace of mind than we had ever experienced. As we both reflected, he began listing different paths we wouldn’t have taken had the suicide not occurred. At first, I could sense his discomfort even suggesting there was a “bright side” to losing his brother and he definitely wasn’t suggesting there was one, but he saw a glimpse of how “ok” we all are, always. In an instant, I saw deeply what Michael repeated over and over. I saw the absoluteness of “the kindness of the design”. Looking backward, I saw the invisible pillow that caught us both, helped us up and pointed us in the next direction of our lives.

From that point, I began to ask myself: What would I do differently if in every moment, I knew no matter what I faced, not only could I find the courage, ability, and resilience inside myself to be ok, but that I didn’t have to go searching for it because it’s there already just waiting for me to fall into it?

Without effort, I began to live life unafraid of anything coming at me. I knew it could hurt but I also realized my infinite potential to bounce back. It revolutionized what I would allow in my life and in the life of The SPARK Initiative. Our growth, expansion and impact are, in no small part, because of this realization both inside of myself and inside those on our team.

Today we work to point the youth and adults we serve in the same direction. We challenge them to see and ask for themselves: What they would DO or NOT DO if they knew they would always be ok? If they knew their “ok-ness” didn’t reside in whatever they were chasing or running from? What if they knew it didn’t reside in their ability to retaliate or find justice or avoid tragedy or evade trauma or acquire straight A’s or get into their dream college, or achieve their goal weight but rather they had an unwavering realization that their “ok-ness” was a living, breathing part of being alive – a SPARK inside?

Just yesterday, we received letters from recent graduates of the program we ran in our local jail. Here is a small snip-it
“Unfortunately, my past experiences have for a long time made me feel like trusting other people was impossible. After joining this program and a lot of self-reflection, I have come to find out that in truth, I stopped trusting myself – My SPARK. I have spent far too long ignoring my feelings and dimming my SPARK with a clutter of thoughts that I have fed repeatedly with no release…. I now have a release and going through my feelings at my own pace is ok. I’m ok.”

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in Tampa Bay -this year the locals call it CHAMPA BAY as Tampa is home to the 2020 Super Bowl Champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2020 Soccer Champs, the Rowdies and the 2020 World series runner ups, the Tampa Bay Rays. Needless to say, my itinerary would be to attend as many of these games as possible. Also, on the top of my list would be to enjoy Florida’s Oldest Restaurant (115 years old) and the world’s largest Spanish restaurant, The Columbia in Ybor City, Ulele on Riverwalk in Tampa, as well as a hidden gem closer to my home in the suburbs, called Stein and Vine. Finally, we would definitely be hanging out beach side and possibly take a Tiki Boat cruise on Riverwalk (something we just did as a team that was super fun).

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?

I can easily attribute my success and place in my life and career to the following people.

My Life = God. I have lived an incredibly blessed life.

My Character = My parents. They have always been my best friends and life’s greatest mentors.

My Career = My husband Will. We have 5 kids (3 of whom are his late brothers-we adopted them in 2019) . Without his relentless support of my passion and drive, my career would be non-existent.

My Education & Expertise = My Team and Board and my mentors Michael Neill and Dr. Dicken Bettinger. My team and boards unwavering trust, guidance and support is invaluable to The SPARK Initiatives current success. My mentors Michael Neill and Dr. Dicken Bettinger have been instrumental in my personal and business development. If you want to know how to live an authentic, happier, more impactful, and resilient life -those are your people.

Website: https://thesparkinitiative.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sparkinitiative/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brooke-wheeldon-reece-mba-b6670420/

Twitter: @sparkcurriculum

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sparkmentoringprograms

Other: We host a weekly podcast, FIND Your SPARK – it has over 100 episodes. https://sparkcurriculum.org/podcast/

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.