Sometimes a bright idea needs a Spark

United Way service matches non-profit café with designer


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It turns out a matchmaking service can be more than just a way to find a date.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2011 (4066 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It turns out a matchmaking service can be more than just a way to find a date.

As manager of the L’Arche Café in Transcona, Belinda Squance has been busy at work the past several months getting the café ready for its launch in the new year.

But the organization didn’t have the money to afford an interior designer.

ken gigliotti / winnipeg free press Spark co-ordinator Geoff Ripat (left) matched designer Penny Scott-Mazur (centre) with L'Arche Café manager Belinda Squance. Scott-Mazur said seeing the results of her contribution gives it added meaning.

With the help of Spark, a service of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network and a United Way partner agency, she was connected with a veteran interior designer to help with the work.

“The great thing with Spark is they can partner a non-profit with someone who’s willing to donate their time or offer their services,” Squance said.

“Starting a restaurant is an expensive thing to do. Having someone to donate time was really helpful. As good as I might be at picking colors and textures and that sort of thing, I don’t think it would have the amazing look it will have.”

Since November, designer Penny Scott-Mazur has been helping design the café, a social enterprise of L’Arche, a non-profit organization that promotes the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities.

The cafe will employ L’Arche clients and aims to get the public interacting with people with a developmental disability.

Scott-Mazur said she was approached by Spark and jumped at the opportunity to apply her skills as a tangible way to give back to the community.

“You drop off a toy or a can of food, buy you don’t know who gets it or where it’s going to go,” said Scott-Mazur, who also teaches at Red River College. “Every minute of this project I know and I’m going to be able to go back and view and be a part of it.”

Spark was first conceived six years ago as a pilot project overseen by a number of community agencies, said program co-ordinator Geoff Ripat. Since then, it continues to grow and currently works with several hundred local non-profits and skilled professionals, from accountants to chefs to graphic designers and marketing experts.

Spark will fill around 200 matches this year, Ripat said.

“Non-profit organizations are working in a really complex climate,” he said. “They’re often short on needed resources and on the other hand, there are people with the skills and inclination to help out if they’re given the chance.”

This year, United Way invested more than $92,000 in Spark’s operational funding.

Organizations aren’t charged for a match, and not all the work arranged for is pro bono.

“Sometimes they have money, they just don’t know who to call,” Ripat said.

“Having us there to be able to help with the process is a big support for them. They would muddle through on their own and figure things out, for better or for worse.

“Other times, projects would have to put on hold and would need more fundraising and take longer to track down the right people for the job,” he said.

For more information on Spark, visit For information on the United Way’s 2011 campaign and how you can donate, visit or call 477-5360.

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