News From the World of Spark – June 2024


With Love, from WBIR

Check from WBIR

Spark had a really big day on Thursday, May 30, when representatives from WBIR dropped by with a really big check from the TEGNA Foundation. The foundation and WBIR selected Spark to receive a TEGNA Community Grant for our Spark Ignition program, which supplies young children who have disabilities with battery-powered, ride-in toy cars that (among other things) help prepare them for future use of power wheelchairs. The check for $3,600 will cover the cost of custom-adapting three vehicles.

Members of the grant selection committee from WBIR, a TEGNA company, toured Spark with Executive Director Mary Thom Adams and learned about our mission and services. Their interest was sincere and palpable, and we look forward to working with the station to raise awareness of the often-invisible disability community and the unique work that Spark does in East Tennessee.

Pictured in front of the Spark building are WBIR community coordinator Desiree Johnson; Spark equipment manager Fernando Calixto; Executive Director Mary Thom Adams; and IT and innovation coordinator Brian Sward; and WBIR programming coordinator Steve Workman, journalist Lauren Davis, General Manager David Hunt, marketing director Sarah Webster and producer Kevin Wilson.

Thank you for believing in Spark, WBIR!


Welcome, Christy Haddad!

Christy HaddadChristy Haddad has been an advocate for people with disabilities since their high school days. “Coming to Tennessee as a high-schooler, I went to Hardin Valley Academy and I (volunteered) a lot with the Special Olympics of Greater Knoxville. I have a lot of friends with developmental disabilities.”

In their new role as a consultant for Spark, Christy won’t be working directly with clients with disabilities, but they will be helping our nonprofit get the most out of new software that is the foundation of our record-keeping and growth.

Christy earned a bachelor’s degree in government and a master’s in public administration and public policy from the University of Tennessee. Going through school, they envisioned a career as a nonprofit director or administrator, and for about six years they have been working in data implementation and data software through their company, Haddad Nonprofit Consulting.

They also have a frisky business on the side – co-owning and operating Ezra & Tate’s Pet Care Solutions with their partner. Christy loves challenges and trying new things. They and their partner like to try out new restaurants, especially in the Old City, where they live, and enjoy traveling around the United States.

Christy has yet to visit the homeland of their father – he grew up in Palestine and Jordan – but hopes to do so “as soon as it’s safe enough.” They spent their early years in New Jersey, where their parents met and eventually started a pizza business. New York City is still their favorite place, though the dark period after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is seared into their memory.

“My father was working at FedEx during that, and he was delivering packages under the Twin Towers,” recalls Christy, who was 4 at the time. “We could not reach him; it was horrible.

“So that was traumatic, but my dad was fine. He missed the (attack on the) Twin Towers. He said he delivered his packages there about 10 minutes before it happened.”

While Christy is happy to brag on their father’s American success story, they are clearly writing one of their own.

“I’m a proud Arab-American, a proud member of the LGBT community and a proud nonprofit consulting-firm owner,” says Christy.


Buff City Gives Back

Buff City SoapBuff City Soap in Fountain City has designated Wednesday, June 12, as a Buff Gives Back event benefiting Spark. From 4 to 7 p.m., 10 percent of sales at the soap makery, 5228 N. Broadway, will be donated to Spark. We’d love it if you would support both Spark and Buff City while purchasing freshly made, delightfully scented personal and home cleaning products for yourself or as gifts.


Touchless proximity switch

Touchless / Proximity Switch

Spark Technology Coordinator Brian Sward has developed a very cost-effective touchless switch, also known as a proximity switch. In the world of adaptation for people with certain types of disabilities, such switches provide a simple but highly effective and easy way to activate toys, lamps, signaling and speech devices, and all sorts of electronic devices. Similar proximity switches are available commercially, at remarkably high prices that many individuals would find prohibitive.


A Good Time at Vestival

Spark had an informational booth at the annual Vestival festival on May 11 and spread the word about our services. It was good to see old friends and meet new ones on such a beautiful day! We also made a little money by offering chilled water bottles for a small donation.

Mary Thom and Madeline Rogero

Mary Thom Adams with former Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, right.

Julie Ownby and friend

At Vestival, Spark’s pediatric coordinator, Julie Ownby, right, shares Spark’s story with a visitor.


Spark Supports Parents

Big congratulations to our pediatric coordinator, Julie Ownby, who recently graduated with an associate’s degree in social work from Roane State Community College. Julie has launched a support group for parents of children with disabilities. They are invited to join Julie to share concerns, ask questions and, of course, find support from people going through similar circumstances.

The group meets from 5 to 6 p.m. on select Tuesdays at Spark. Summer dates are June 4 and 18, July 2, 16 and 30, and Aug. 13 and 27.


Challenge Accepted DocumentaryHow Would You Like to be in the Movies?

Alan Williams, formerly with WVLT-TV and owner of Alan Williams Entertainment Inc., and Gary Harmon, retired Knox County Schools teacher and host of the YouTube show “Harmon Speaks,” are teaming up to make a documentary called “Challenge Accepted,” about the state of disabilities in America. The documentary will discuss how people with disabilities have been treated throughout history, show a town hall-style meeting of people with disabilities (and their supporters), and consider the future role of persons with disabilities.

Would you like to be in the documentary? Want to make your opinions known? Want to be there and just listen? You’re invited! We will host the town hall-style meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 6500 S. Northshore Drive, Knoxville. People with disabilities – physical, intellectual or invisible – are welcome, as are your friends and family. We want a large crowd so we can hear a variety of opinions and show the world that this is important to us. If you plan to attend, help us keep count of attendees by emailing Gary Harmon at and giving him the names of attendees.

We are trying hard to make a difference in the world by updating the way the world perceives people with disabilities. Help us make a difference. Let us have just two hours of your summer to change the way the world thinks.


Be a Vol – for Spark!

Do you like volunteering? Do you love Spark? Spark has a huge heart but a small staff, and we welcome any time and talent you wish to contribute. It could as simple as answering the telephone for a couple of hours a week or as advanced as helping to repair durable medical devices. Do you have a knack for electronics, engineering or computers? Spark can plug you in to a variety of necessary tasks. Call Mary Thom Adams at 865-219-0130 or email for more information.

Spark also appreciates monetary donations online at Don’t forget our GoFundMe campaign, Thank you!

116 Childress St.
Knoxville, TN 37920

Spark is a designated 501(c)(3) organization by the IRS, and all donations of money, time, or equipment are tax deductible.

Newsletter produced by Betsy Pickle and Brian Sward.