Up & Coming Weekly

November 15, 2022

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM NOVEMBER 16 - 22, 2022 UCW 11 School of Hope raising funds for expansion by ASHLEY SHIRLEY Of the 89 public and 36 private schools in Cumberland County, only one is solely dedicated to providing a holistic education for autistic stu- dents — the School of Hope: the "perfect place to wonder, learn, and grow." Situated in Fayetteville, the small but sunny private school opens onto a beautiful mural of the school's logo: a puzzle-piece schoolhouse of primary colors upheld by two loving hands. For the past six years, the School of Hope has been a haven and, for some, the last stop on a long road to quality education for their ex- ceptional children. Rob and Amy Sparks, co- founders of the School of Hope, understand that journey all too well. As parents who struggled to access free and ap- propriate education for their autistic son, Jarred, the Sparks filed and won a lawsuit against Fort Bragg Schools, which ended in federal district court in 1997. "We fought hard for our son because we wanted him to be educated, not babysat," Sparks expressed with passion. "ese students have a right to an education, and that's exactly what we fight for here. e School of Hope is built from the heart — it's not about money, it's not about numbers — it's about quality." While Sparks, a former primary school teacher for Cumberland County, and Rob, retired Air Force, always dreamed of opening a school for children with autism, it wasn't until the passing of their son, Jarred, in 2011, that the reality of the school began to take shape. "I loved [teaching], but I made a promise to my son," Sparks shared. "I said to him: 'Jarred, I promise I will never let your death be in vain — we will open the School of Hope.'" Reminders of Jarred are found throughout the school, and it seems no part of the space is un- touched by his influence. A beautiful quilt made of his clothing hangs from the wall outside the office. A display case of his athletic accomplish- ments greets visitors as they walk inside. A hand- some young man posing with his family, a strong swimmer standing with medals around his neck — his face stares back from several framed pho- tos around the office. It's clear the hands holding up the little painted schoolhouse belong to him. "is school is so personal to me," Sparks ex- pressed. "Jarred is my son, and I want him to be proud of me." In honor of Jarred's beautiful spirit, the Sparks have made it their life's mission to offer children on the spectrum a place to feel safe, loved, and educated. "is is a very unique school," Sparks shared with Up & Coming Weekly. "We know our stu- dents, and we love each and every one of them." An institution like the School of Hope couldn't come at a more crucial time. According to the CDC, around 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. A mere 20 years ago, the numbers were around 1 in 500. e sharp increase in diagnosed cases creates questions about best practices when serving the varying needs of children and students within this very specific population, particularly regarding edu- cation. Many families of children with autism have indeed found success within the public school system through Individualized Education Plans, caseworkers and self-contained classrooms. Many others are frustrated with a system that, even before COVID, often struggled to meet the needs of students with autism spectrum disorder. It is precisely due to these challenges that the School of Hope has gone from a student body of five to around 52 in the last six years. e K-12 school offers all the standard subjects, small class sizes, and an emphasis on life skills and social- ization. Unlike public institutions, the School of Hope allows Personalized Education Plans, on-site ABA therapists and Registered Behavior Technicians, making them a highly sought-after choice for families moving into the area. As their renown spreads and their services become more necessary, the need for School of Hope's expan- sion becomes increasingly urgent. To make their dreams of building a bigger school a reality, the School of Hope has initiated their Hope 200 campaign, which seeks to raise $500,000 to purchase a modular building with eight classrooms that would allow them to take in 160 more children. e Sparks, in particular Amy, as the school's charismatic leader, have hit the fundraising trail to bring their story, message and dream for the school's future to the community and even those outside Cumberland County. "When you hear Amy speak about her son and the goals for this school, you immediately want to raise money for this cause," shared Sandy Hol- land, an organizer of a recent fundraiser on the school's behalf. e "Roaring 20s" themed fundraiser/lun- cheon held in October, coupled with outside donations from the community and out-of-state benefactors, raised nearly $10,000 toward the school's Hope 200 campaign. "God was laying it on my heart that our group needed to do this," Holland explained. "e ladies of our church — so many of them have children and grandchildren on the spectrum, and we know their struggles. Several children at our church are on the spectrum — you see the need." It's a need the Sparks hope to impress upon as many people as possible as the school creeps toward its goal. "No donation is too small," Sparks admitted. "Until autism touches people's lives, they don't think about it. Most people who give have a personal story they want to share. When people come to this school and see what's happening, they're touched." As for Sparks, her dreams for the school extend far beyond her lifetime; ultimately, she and her husband are working to build a legacy. "I dream that one day when I'm no longer here on this earth, the School of Hope will forever help children with autism and will continue to go on. I hope that thousands of lives will be touched and when I get to heaven, Jarred and I can have our first conversation, and he'll say to me: 'you did it, Mom.'" e School of Hope is located at 111 Burns Street in Fayetteville. To learn more about the School of Hope or to donate to the Hope 200 Fund, visit www.theschoolofhope.net/, or call 910-339-5683. FEATURE ASHLEY SHIRLEY, Staff Writer. COMMENTS? editor@upandcom- ingweekly.com. 910-484-6200. Above: Amy and Rob Sparks founded the School of Hope for au- tistic students in honor of their son, Jarred. Below: Sandy Holland organized a Roaring 20s themed fundraiser with an auction to raise money for the school. (Photos courtesy School of Hope)

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