The vision of Sparks for Success! is to end generational incarceration and poverty for our students as they learn the skills to stay in school, graduate, and become productive citizens in our community.
The mission of Sparks for Success! is to help our students build their resilience and overcome their traumas through Music Therapy in order to succeed in school and in life.
Why Children of Inmates?
Youth with one or both parents in a jail or prison make up one of the largest at-risk populations in the United States. Incarceration affects racial minorities and the economic underclass at higher rates than the white and middle- to upper-class population, putting more economic and psychosocial hardship on families that are already underserved.
Parental incarceration is recognized as one of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can have lifetime detrimental impacts on brain development and physical health.
Music is the international language that reaches everyone. It transcends ethnic, geographic, and socio-economic barriers.
Research shows how music impacts brain function and human behavior. It can reduce stress, pain, and symptoms of depression. It also can improve cognitive and motor skills. ["Your Brain on Music", Pegasus, UCF.edu]
And music is fun! Whether singing, dancing, or playing an instrument, our Sparks students are having a great time as they explore ways to overcome their traumas and learn to move forward with healing and success for their future.
Founder & Executive Director
Cynthia founded Sparks for Success! in 2016 after working for a number of years with children affected by parental incarceration. She realized early intervention was vitally important to help these children develop the resilience needed to overcome the traumas resulting from parental incarceration. Cynthia envisions in each child a great potential just waiting to be unleashed through skilled nurturing and guidance.
Cynthia holds a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance and a Master of Business Administration. She has studied piano at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, the University of Delaware, The Mozarteum Sommerakademie in Salzburg, and The University of Texas at Austin, and studied business administration at St. Edward’s University (Austin).
For more than 40 years, Cynthia’s teaching career has encompassed private piano lessons, class theory, and general music classes. She has also directed children’s choirs throughout that time. Her experience includes working with children to promote early childhood development skills through music. On the nonprofit side, Cynthia was the Director of Administration and Operations for 19 years with the RGK Foundation. Throughout the years Cynthia has served on several boards and has been active as a volunteer in her community.
Larry SteeleBoard Member
Larry Steele is a retired US Air Force Senior Master Sergeant who spent 22 years as a Weather Observer, Weather Forecaster, and Weather Superintendent. After retiring from the Air Force, Larry launched a second career in the Information Systems arena, serving as a Tech Writer, Programmer, Operational and Computer Auditor, and Security and Disaster Recovery VP.
Larry earned his BS in Business Administration and Management from the University of Maryland while in the Air Force. He earned his AA in Computer Programming Technology from Metro Tech of Omaha after his discharge. Larry spent many years as a programmer, an operational and computer auditor, as well as a disaster recovery professional.
After retiring from VISA in 2007, Larry entered the volunteer community by joining the Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN). He immediately became a Core Team member and a grant writer. Larry has been deployed a number of times to help the survivors of floods, fires, tornadoes, and plant explosions. Larry is on the ADRN Advisory Board. He has served as President and board member of several non-profit organizations.
Noah CriderBoard Member
Noah Crider is a graduate of Texas State University and a lover of all things Austin. He has worked in sales, operations, and consulting and is currently a sales coach for Dell financial services. Noah is also part of an early seed stage company in Austin called Encast. He was an inaugural member of the American Heart Association’s “Leaders with Heart” cohort and in 2018 completed the “Austin Involved Board Internship Program” through I Live Here, I Give Here. Noah’s main goal, both in the long- and short-term is to always be helping people. He does this at work, through community service, by sharing his faith, and even by just being a good friend.
Noah and his wife, Lauren, have a heart for giving back and do so by being involved with missions groups and service projects. At any time you can find them hiking, camping, playing sports, or just enjoying time with their two rescue dogs, Cooper and Indie.
Bianca NealBoard Member
Bianca Neal is a music industry executive with over 15 years in the field of arts, entertainment, entrepreneurship and multi-media production experience, as well as a portfolio of varied accomplishments including education initiatives, community public art and successful cultural arts project management. She is committed to advancing equity in the arts and cultural spaces.
As a teaching artist, she hosts workshops throughout the country through H.O.P.E.F.U.L. Art (Helping Other People Experience Fulfilling Unlimited Lives). In this capacity, she curated and facilitated the exhibition of 30+ incarcerated artists. Bianca has illustrated 10 children’s books, has been featured in the notable E.A.S.T. exhibition (5 years+) and is an award winning filmmaker. Her film credits include the award-winning film Chasing Smoke, and the critically acclaimed film Tower to Tower.
As a media maven, she has also choreographed performances presented at SXSW and Austin City Limits. She has also spoken at SXSWEdu, USC and recently, Harvard University on the Art and Power of Storytelling. She has served as the Lead Juror for the City of Austin (COA) National Arts program, and the COA Cultural Arts Division board for Cultural Funding Program. Bianca received her BA from USC and an M.F.A. from UT Austin.