Spark: Preparing the workforce of tomorrow


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He is only in 8th grade, still Ubaldo Arrendondo is already working toward a career in graphic design. Once a week after school, Ubaldo works in Palo Alto with Geoff Gates whose company, A Simple Theory, designs Web sites and does digital marketing.

"It's really hard getting to know how to use the computer and how everything works, but at the same time it's fun because you are doing something that you wanted to do when you grow up," says Ubaldo.

Ubaldo is part of an after school program called Spark based in San Francisco. Middle school students from underserved neighborhoods in Redwood City and San Francisco are picked to work one-on-one with trained mentors.

"That's the age when kids start to look beyond school and beyond their family and wonder what's out there for them and if they find something inspiring at that age, then they will be off like a rocket through high school and into college," says Chris balme, one of the founders of the program.

Gates' wife had been encouraging him to do some volunteer work.

"She was like, you know, 'It's really good. It felt really good to give back. You should think about doing it,' and I was like, 'Well, I would like to do something with kids,' and then low and behold three days later I get this random e-mail," says Gates.

Spark contacts local businesses and students pick the profession. Today about 70 of them are in the program which goes on for 10 weeks without getting paid.

The moment Sharon Jimenez entered the program she knew she wanted to work with a jeweler. Spark paired her up with Geoffrey Stern of Geoffrey's Diamonds in San Carlos.

"For so many generations it's really been an old boys network. It has been so male dominated and there is no reason for that. I think this industry is just open for, especially young females to enter it," says Stern.

The entire staff has taken Sharon under its wing. She's an 8th grader at Hoover in San Carlos. She says it has been one of the best learning experiences of her life.

"Working more hands-on and then just making your mistakes and learning form them," says Sharon.

Her project consists of designing and creating a pendant.

"I feel proud of it that I actually got something like this to do and that I get to keep it in the end," she says.

"She doesn't want book knowledge, she wants to actually produce with her hands," says Stern. "She wants to take care and do the find detail work. You really can't teach somebody that."

Maybe she will buy Stern out when he retires?

"Oh my God, I look forward to it," laughs Stern.

Spark is now selecting students for their summer program.

To learn more about Spark, visit

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