A large part of IHADLA’s comprehensive, whole child approach is providing Dreamer Scholars with positive and trustworthy adult role models, aside from their family members, and our Mentors make up a huge portion of this group. Our Mentor program includes volunteers from diverse personal, educational and career backgrounds who come together to expose Dreamer Scholars to a variety of positive, new experiences they wouldn’t have access to otherwise and provide them with whatever personal and professional guidance they want or need. Mentor Carla Sparks has been involved in the program since 2013 when her friend Michael, recommended they both join the program. Michael was unable to follow through due to developing cancer, but Carla continued on and was matched with mentee Leah, which she calls Michael’s “last gift to me.”
Carla was born and raised in Vallejo, California, and was always a “top student”, upon graduating high school, she was accepted to San Francisco State University receiving a full scholarship. Her parents and high school counselors expressed disappointment when she decided to forgo attending a university and pursue an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Apparel Design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. After graduation she was employed in the Fashion Industry over a decade before returning to school to obtain a certificate in Radio Broadcast Media from UCLA Extension. Carla established a successful career as a sales and marketing executive working for top companies in the Entertainment and Media industries. Since joining the IHADLA Mentor program, Carla says that Leah “has become a valued member of my village” and interacting with Leah over the past five years gives her hope “and a reason to continue fighting for social justice.” Although she highly recommends higher education, Carla also hopes to impart on her mentee and other IHADLA students and parents that “college is not for everyone” and that “overall intelligence and level of success cannot be measured by degrees.” She wants students and parents to take away that “knowledge is obtained by a variety of methods” reading books, completing online courses, earning professional certifications, and attending trade schools as means of growing and learning.
Based on her experience, she highlights “hard work, determination, consistency, good attitude, good communication skills, honesty and kindness” as the skills that most helped her in her path to get where she is now. Carla believes that “young people are the future of the nation” and by strengthening “their minds and character we are helping shape the future of the world.” She hopes to recruit more mentors to IHADLA’s program and is excited to see the positive impact that her mentee Leah will have on her own community.