Judy Kucharuk: A spark to last a lifetime


Eight or nine years ago, while sitting in the passenger seat on a drive to Edmonton, I jotted down an idea for a professional development conference. As I balanced my notebook on my lap, I sketched out the premise for a one-of-a-kind conference in Northeast B.C. that was designed for women, by women. This conference even had a name: the Spark Women’s Leadership Conference.

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When I returned home, I threw myself into crafting the finer details of the conference and filled a small binder with ideas and plans. The project excited me! I wanted to be able to birth this Spark baby in a community where the prospect of attending a professional development conference was not without its roadblocks: time away from work, expensive air travel, accommodations expense, time away from family. 

Nine years ago, the economy was booming and no one could spare an employee for a week away from their post: one day for travel there, two days for the conference, and then another day for returning home. If you were lucky, the flights would work in your favour, but invariably you would need to spend an extra day simply so that the flight schedule worked. This meant an entire week away from both full-time jobs: home and family, and work.

Working women have their plates full and adding something like a professional development conference to that overflowing plate needed to be an asset, not a liability.

I tried to launch Spark in Fort Nelson first, but there was already a conference happening in the community that had received corporate sponsor support and there was simply no room for another event.

Spark could not happen in a vacuum, it required community passion and the support of women who wanted to make it work. The project sat in its binder in my office for another year. 

One afternoon while I was in Edmonton visiting my daughter, we were out for a day of thrift shopping at the Goodwill store, and I received a phone call on my cell. It was Mayor Lori Ackerman and she said few words, but they were the most exciting words I had heard in a very long time. She said something to the effect of, “Remember that women’s conference you told me about? I think we could do it here in Fort St. John.”

That conversation that took place in the denim aisle in the Goodwill Store between me and Mayor Ackerman was the tiny Spark that helped to ignite the flame of inspiration and professional development that has just wrapped up a sixth conference year!

More than 1,500 women attendees over six years, passionately committed sponsors who return year after year, and thousands of volunteer hours have been dedicated to Spark. 

What began has a flicker of an idea has burst into a fire that burns brightly and I am so very proud that I have had a role in making it happen.

The phone call that happened in the Goodwill store was followed up by a meeting in a restaurant with a Fort St. John business owner where we asked the question, “Do you think that the community would support Spark?” His answer was, “Yes! Whatever you need from us to make it happen!” 

Next came a potluck dinner in Mayor Ackerman’s living room where she invited women from Fort St. John to gauge interest. I stood at a flipchart while women balanced their plates on their lap and listened to my pitch. Their answer was, “Yes!”

Spark was born, but it would take a team to transfer the ideas that were etch a sketched into my brain into what it has become.

Over the past seven years, we have curated a magical team of women who put thought into action. These women throw themselves completely into creating the best conference in the region and I dare say, Western Canada.

Me? What is my role in Spark? I’m a member of that magical team of women, chaired by Jennifer Moore, who will take a very short break before beginning the planning for Spark 2020. 

I may have had the initial framework of an idea, but it is the Spark Committee and the women who have served on it throughout the years who have made it happen year after year. It’s those women who separated the chaff from the wheat of the initial brain-dump of ideas, and have made it the amazing conference that is has become. It’s those women who have loved, laughed and cried over Spark because they care so deeply. It’s those women to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.

I recall a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert and her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear: “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” 

Spark was one of those jewels.

Judy Kucharuk is a lover of sarcasm, witty people and footnotes. You can follow her on twitter @judylaine

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