Amber Harris (MDiv ’11)

Winston-Salem, N.C.

When Amber Harris (MDiv ’11) created her innovative nonprofit in September of 2020, she quickly settled on a solid acronym: SPARK (Share Peace and Rekindle Kindness). And the way she sees it now, Wake Forest helped rub the sticks together.

“My experience at Wake Forest Divinity was instrumental,” she said. “It was paramount in my journey because it was about seeing our neighbors in the world. Even in those moments when we’re not in a faith context, we hold the idea that we are all worthy of life and spark, fanning the flame for each other. That’s the way I want to hold my ministry accountable.”

SPARK, located only a stone’s throw from campus, is a difference-maker in the Winston-Salem community because it doesn’t merely perform service work; it helps others perform service work as well.

Harris noticed the area had no shortage of kindhearted people. The undervalued need, she reasoned, was to connect those good intentions with the logistical and technical support needed to put them into action. SPARK describes its work as “designing and managing cause-driven service experiences.”

“We have been able to be creative with organizations,” Harris said. “We can mobilize a group to work with you in your food pantry. We can also help if you need your shelves replaced.

“When you serve with SPARK, you’re not seeing SPARK. SPARK is what sparks the awareness, advocacy, learning and mobilization for community causes.”

One ongoing example is SPARK’s work with the Northwood neighborhood, located in the shadow of many Wake Forest athletics facilities. SPARK mobilizes groups of community members to help bring housing units back online, addressing the city’s housing shortage.

SPARK has already become well known for valuing and facilitating partnerships with organizations, including the United Way, The Dwelling and Wake Forest Athletics, in Northwoods.

“Volunteers then become advocates because awareness and service go hand in hand,” Harris said. “Advocacy for neighbors living in low-income housing or looking for housing is always key.”

Among the groups enlisting SPARK is a local company with employees who consciously wanted to get away from computer screens for a day or two and do something different.

“They wanted to get their hands dirty,” Harris said.

Before its 2021-22 season began, the Wake Forest men’s basketball team served with SPARK on a partnership event with A Bed and A Book, another Winston-Salem nonprofit. SPARK handled the logistics for the team and coordinated with A Bed and A Book to allow the Deacs to help deliver beds to local children.

In its brief history, SPARK had facilitated 63 service opportunities involving more than 1,400 volunteers from more than 50 churches, businesses and other organizations as of March 2022. Harris sees Wake Forest’s involvement in all of them because the experiential learning component of her education didn’t just occupy her; it put the words of Biblical text into greater context.

“Wake Forest was the obvious choice because of its focus on reconciliation and transformation and social justice,” Harris said. “In order to be solid in who we are, we must understand what’s going on in the world around us. And then we must say, ‘How do we use our own person to build community?’“

 Amber Harris was a recipient of the Harriet G. Mast Scholarship, the Ware-Davenport Scholarship and the J. Allen Easley Fund.

Jamie Dean  (’05, JD ’09, MBA ’09)

“I can say that having that scholarship and understanding the desire for recipients to be people of service has been embedded in me. It has shown me the importance of caring for the community.”