2018 CROSO Spark Award

Written by Nora Shepard, Marketing & Communications Committee Member

CROSO celebrates innovation.

Not only is our organization incredibly innovative in how we envision global education, but we like to reward innovative thinking whenever possible. Some might say our approach is lofty; we think our idealistic approach is necessary for progress. The truth is, we need a certain level of idealism to move the world forward—to create a world we’re all proud to live in. But that idealism has to be paired with creative strategy in order to work. We’re so fortunate to work with some of the most innovative thinkers in not only Uganda, but the world.

Because innovation is so imperative to our overarching vision, CROSO honors an individual, family, or group of individuals with the CROSO Spark Award every year. The recipient of this award has implemented an innovative approach for connecting CROSO with new resources, which helps spread our vision to an increasing network of people. The involvement of this recipient is always an energizing spark that leads to lasting impact for both CROSO and our scholars. We believe the winner of this award has helped light the way to a brighter future for Ugandan street children.

This year, we’re proud to announce Pankaj Sharma and the District 219 Dance Marathon Club as the winner of this honorable award.


CROSO’s relationship with Dance Marathon goes back a few years. The two high schools in District 219 (Niles North and Niles West) work together each year to run a huge Dance Marathon event to benefit a different nonprofit organization every year. Their recipient receives a generous contribution of time and money, which can impact the nonprofit significantly. CROSO (unsuccessfully) applied to be the recipient twice before we were finally chosen during the 2013-2014 school year. It was a true game-changer for our little-but-growing organization. Not only did that endorsement infuse renewed energy and buzz for our organization, they made the largest donation CROSO has ever received ($72,193 in 2014!). This generous contribution allowed us to step back and make some huge strategic changes that ultimately propelled us to raise more funds than we had in the past. For example, the extra funding allowed us to experiment with a new kind of annual fundraising event. Pankaj Sharma, the moderator for the Niles North Dance Marathon club, is the one who has maintained this special relationship with CROSO and regularly invites Molly, our founder and Executive Director, to speak to his classes. This only raises awareness for CROSO even further. Not to mention, each year since then several current students continue to volunteer for CROSO.

Even though this happened a number of years ago now, and the individual students have since graduated from high school, the efforts on behalf of CROSO were really the spark that allowed us to dream a little bigger, go a little farther, and smile a little wider. This relationship suddenly gave us the means to take on more students, consider a paid staff position, and better meet the ever-changing needs of our growing organization. This partnership is a true example of helping others. Dance Marathon chose to give some of their funds back to a small non-profit, which catapulted our opportunities to grow. We can’t overemphasize the tremendous impact it’s had on our organization.

No success or failure is an island. We are incredibly proud of the work we’re doing at CROSO, but we are absolutely not doing it alone. Our volunteers, our sponsors, and our partnerships are invaluable when it comes to pushing the needle forward. We are humbled and grateful to have such an outpouring of support, both from within our community and from those outside of it.

CROSO celebrates and rewards innovation. We’re proud to recognize such an innovative organization that invests in innovation themselves. Join us at the 11th Annual CROSO Benefit on October 4th to celebrate with us!