Last week, I went from Executive Director to CEO of The Cypress Initiative. Sitting around the board table, we all joked about the change and the irrelevance of the title. We are still the same humble team, doing the same important work. But it’s funny how a title can bring a new level of consciousness to a position. It is my job to not only be the managing director of this organization that is doing life changing work, but also a leader to our extraordinarily, selfless team of people. With this new title, though nothing changed, it turned out to be the catalyst for some fresh thinking. I began to see my role with new eyes.


At The Cypress Initiative we spend a lot of time talking about WHAT we do. Most everyone that knows of The Cypress Initiative, knows we work with teens through the S.P.A.R.K. Teen Mentoring Program. They may also know we work with adults as well. We coach them through life’s ups and downs and that those ups and downs come in all forms. Those that know us even better, may even know we train businesses and business teams on cultivating creative potential and innovation.  That is the WHAT!

At The Cypress Initiative we also spend a lot of time telling others about the HOW. How we work in schools throughout the year through the teaching of our S.P.A.R.K. Teen Mentoring program. They may know the basis of all of our programs is the simple teaching of the human experience. How we teach teens and adults alike, that they have this SPARK inside of themselves that will guide them to the fullness and fulfillment they seek. And a few may even know how we train others around the world to do this work in their communities as well. That is the HOW!

With some confidence I can say we communicate the WHAT and the HOW really well. But last week when one of our lead mentors walked in the office completely defeated by her day, it hit me like a mac truck.  We are completely missing the boat on the WHY. As an organization, we are failing to communicate what drives our highly engaged team to work every day.

our why


You see, this mentor had just left a class where she walked a group of teens through the grief of a new born baby’s death. A class filled with what most would label as “troubled teens” being forced to deal with a very adult situation. This incident wasn’t in the S.P.A.R.K. curriculum, it wasn’t part of our program.  Yet it is one of the many WHYs. It is why we push ourselves in the classroom each school day, regardless of the newest, most pressing academic outcome the teachers are being forced to achieve.


But you might be surprised to know, it wasn’t the students our mentor was helping, that left her feeling defeated. It never is those kids we can reach. It was the two students that were missing that day.  It was the 15 year old sleeping in the hospital bed, who spent 9 months carrying a child in her womb only lose him hours after birth. It was the 14 year old who went missing just days after telling her teachers about the sexual abuse. It was those two that were supposed to be in her class that day, which left her feeling defeated.


As I looked at her tears, I felt her heart. I have been there too many times. I’ve felt that kind of helplessness more times than I wish to recount. I was instantly transported back to my days in the classroom and the reason after 15 years of non-profit work, I’m still here, still putting in the time.


I remembered the countless kids that came to school hungry or tired because they were working 2 or 3 jobs to support their family.

I remembered the girl who told me about her uncle pimping her out to other family members.

I remembered the child who told me that his mother was passed out drunk when he left the house that morning.

I remembered the boy who told the class he had to take care of his father with cancer only to later find out his father with cancer was really his mother with a cocaine habit.

I remembered working with two young girls who one day told me about the pornography parties their mother would have while they slept in the next room.

I remembered the child who found his mother frequently beaten by her boyfriend and was the caretaker of his younger siblings.

I remembered losing my brother-in-law to suicide and how in that act I almost lost my husband too.


I could keep remembering because the list of memories is infinite and the problems are deep and infectious in the family cycle. But I chose to stop remembering there because the first WHY is all I need.


Then, I began to think about why we don’t talk about the WHY very much. On one level the answer is simple- the stories hurt. If you have a pulse, you can’t help but to be touched. However, the real truth is you won’t hear many of them from The Cypress Initiative because many times the WHY isn’t our story to tell. It’s a fragile line between confidentiality and making others aware of what our youth are faced with every day. It’s the slow dance between casting light on the damaged covering instead of placing constant focus toward the SPARK inside. This SPARK that, though people will try to convince you otherwise, will never bare a scar.


The WHY at The Cypress Initiative is simple. We are all humans bearing our own crosses. As we become adults we connect to other humans and share our stories of resilience because at some level we see how this life thing works. We see we can go through our own hell and come out unscathed. But there is this fragile time somewhere between the innocence of being a child and the maturity of being an adult in which it really is useful to have someone help you #FindYourSpark.


That’s where we come in, that’s our WHY.


With Love,
Brooke Wheeldon-Reece
Chief Executive Officer
The Cypress Initiative



**We have set up a GoFundMe Account to help cover the cost of the funeral for the teen who lost her baby this past week. If you are able to donate any amount please CLICK HERE.

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