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Purpose Prize Fellow 2015
A father taps the power of film to teach ethics and personal responsibility to young people across the U.S.
I believe our youth are our future.
TrueSpark gives kids a road map to navigate life’s journey. They learn creativity and curiosity instead of apathy, integrity and generosity in place of greed, courage and love instead of fear, empathy and forgiveness instead of hatred. TrueSpark uses film – the language of our culture – to tell the stories of inspiring, honorable role models, which in turn, inspire young people to believe they can make a difference.
I believe, and research bears out, that strong character traits are an important predictor of future success. If children are to become responsible citizens and ethical leaders, strong character is the foundation. I’m proof: Character traits like perseverance, integrity, curiosity and courage helped me to grow a successful investment and management firm. In 2008, I sold that business, to create TrueSpark.
The idea began in my own family life. I wanted to teach positive character traits to my teenage daughters, to mentor and coach them. They had their own interests and wanted to control their leisure time, spending more and more time away from home, with friends. I vowed to develop an entertaining experience for my daughters AND their friends – something “cool” that would make a difference in their lives. It turned out to be watching movies – together – and talking about what we saw and thought and felt.
The idea worked: I saw I could use movies to help build character, to help kids dream big and succeed. Bit by bit, the idea grew into a formal program, with a curriculum and 50-film list of movies to watch. We made something perceived as a problem – the fact that children spend more than seven hours a day using media – into a tool for personal growth and societal gain. And we had fun.
- More than 8,800 young people in 31 states have participated in TrueSpark programming, primarily through community-based organizations, afterschool programs and charter schools.
- TrueSpark participants have greater knowledge about positive character traits, greater belief that they can achieve their goals, and improved media literacy and critical thinking skills, according to a 2014 study by researchers at USC.
- Anecdotal reports suggest that school-based behavior issues – typically, detention and suspension – can be as much as halved when students participate in TrueSpark programs.
Today, we are a premier provider of character education programs nationwide, endorsed by both educators and the film industry. We bring teachers, parents and other adults into ethical and motivational education. The key structure of the TrueSpark curriculum is to stop the movie at different times to point out a particular character trait and to engage youth in conversation about its application to his or her own life. Our programs teach, even as they entertain, engage and inspire young people.
I was an investor and am now a non-profit leader, but I have always been relentless in pursuit of excellence. I believe that applying the principles that brought success early in life on a larger scale, to serve others, yields great benefits. Kid by kid, movie by movie, TrueSpark has changed and changes the course of thousands of children’s lives forever.
Implementing this vision has changed me, too: In helping children reach their fullest potential and live with integrity and purpose, I, in turn, have reached and achieved more than I had, before my TrueSpark encore.