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News | January 24, 2020

Inspiring Change: Sands Cares Accelerator Helps the Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation Transform

At the end of 2019, Sands will celebrate the first Sands Cares Accelerator graduate, when the Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation (ICF) closes out its three-year membership in the program.

Through the Accelerator, Sands creates a deeper and longer-term engagement with nonprofit organizations the company believes have the potential to fast-track capabilities to greater impact on our community.  The company dedicates substantial resources to enable members to accelerate their ability to deliver on their mission.

Not only was ICF the first member of the Accelerator, the Foundation was one of the inspirations behind its establishment as Sands recognized the organization’s potential after a few executives had become involved in the organization.  ICF takes at-risk youth off the streets and into greatness, working to inspire youth by helping them create a vision for their life and maximize their strengths by offering them mentoring, project-driven learning, apprenticeships, entrepreneurial skills, academics and athletics.

The program asks youth to ‘earn their way’ and ‘discover their passions’ by helping them create and execute quarterly business plans. Through this process, the leadership and character development programs arm youth with a ‘psychology for life,’ using emotional intelligence and the Jewel Never Broken mindfulness curriculum to prepare them mentally, emotionally, and physically to live happy, driven and inspired lives.”

At the end of the three-year Accelerator membership, the goal for participants is to have grown in size, stature, capacity or capability.  As ICF looks to the culmination of its time in the Sands Cares Accelerator, Executive Director Trent Alenik, reflected on the impact Sands Cares Accelerator has had on the organization:

Q: What have been the major ways ICF has changed as a result of Sands Cares Accelerator?

Alenik: “The greatest impact Accelerator has provided is the investment in helping us build out our staff. Three years ago, we were overwhelmed, with our volunteer and founder Ryan Wolfington and I doing everything – operations, programs, fundraising and most importantly, guiding and mentoring the youth in our programs. We had the programming, the vision, the ideas … but we couldn’t take the necessary steps forward because we were limited by the size of our team. The investment from Sands into our infrastructure changed the game. We have been able to add key staff including a director of programs, a director of operations for the Jewel Never Broken program, a director for our TEAM BRYAN tennis program, a director of development and an administrator/office manager. We’ve gone from one full-time staff member to now six, and it’s been a complete game changer for our organization!

“Having the staffing to expand, grow and develop new programs and services has completely altered the trajectory of ICF.  We would not have been able to take on running the Jewel Never Broken program, which is a mindfulness-based program and wellness festival co-created by Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter, Jewel. Through this program, we co-created and now manage the online community that has 40,000 users on the platform, and we’ve worked with both Jewel and Kroger to take the principles of ICF and Jewel Never Broken nation-wide through running a health, wellness and music festival with more than 75,000 attendees in two major cities. The Foundation played a critical role in making the event a success and was in charge of programming, marketing, promotions, community engagement, VIP and talent services, and stage management. The event staff included 42 ICF students, alumni, parents, volunteers and staff.

“Thanks to expanded staffing and the new organizational structure, which enabled the work with Jewel and Kroger that put us on a national stage, ICF is now part of Jewel’s cutting-edge mental health and mindfulness-based curriculum which has been adopted by the Montgomery County School District in Ohio as part of its fifth grade language arts curriculum.

“We have always had a leading-edge, best-in-class set of programs that have produced extraordinary results. Having Sands take an interest in helping us grow has been a complete game changer. Finally, we have been able to share our quality program with more people. The sheer numbers of people we serve has grown exponentially. With more staff, we could offer more programs and serve more youth than ever before. We went from 350 to 1,000 youth in our Las Vegas programs, expanded our leadership program from 35 to 75 students, and increased our internship program from 8 to 35 students. Through the Jewel Never Broken program, we are now serving 6,000 students in an Ohio school district, 40,000 people through our online community, and 75,000 people at our wellness festivals. The evolution in how we can deliver services and how many people we can serve has been transformative thanks to the Accelerator. Frankly, this is just the beginning, as our society needs this type of programming more than ever.”

Q: Besides the investment in infrastructure, one of the other benefits of the Accelerator is the opportunity to be part of the annual Sands Cares INSPIRE Charity Concert, which ICF helped found in its first year in the program. How has involvement in INSPIRE benefited the organization over these three years?

Alenik: “Our involvement in Sands Cares INSPIRE has two distinct benefits. The first is financial – the infusion of additional funding donated by Sands from ticket, VIP package sales and other fund-raising avenues from the concert has enabled us to invest in key capacity-building initiatives.  We are now able to fund the operations of two transitional homes for youth and their families who are facing challenging times. We were able to acquire an additional facility in Craig Ranch Park with six tennis courts and storage facilities to grow a tennis and outreach program in an under-served part of town, and we have been able to move into a new office to house our headquarters and primary operations in Lorenzi Park, going from a crammed 800-square-foot classroom to an amazing 2,400-square-foot office that overlooks a pond and is a much better environment for our students.

“The second benefit is awareness and credibility. Prior to Accelerator and INSPIRE, we were only known in some circles – even though we were doing much more for at-risk youth in providing them with a cutting-edge human development and educational program. Being associated with the charity concert and all of the advertising and promotion of the event with its amazing artists and the backing and credibility of Sands has enabled us to be positioned as a credible and leading nonprofit in this community. It gave us ‘street cred.’ We could go in and have the conversations with the Wellness Your Way Festival or the World Team Tennis organization, for which we secured the ability to run 71 percent of the Las Vegas franchise’s operations for the season that finished in early August. INSPIRE gave us the visibility and credibility to grow both locally and nationally – the staffing and infrastructure investments enabled us to capitalize on these opportunities and has opened some significant doors for us going forward.”

Q: What does being part of the Accelerator Program mean to you personally?

Alenik: “I am the first graduate of the ICF leadership program along with Frideric Prandecki, and I believe in the organization so much that I came back to help Ryan run it after graduating from Villanova. So, for me – it’s the people stories – the success we can bring to youth who never dreamed they could go to college and are now attending some of the best universities in the world … the kids who come to us feeling broken because of their setbacks and learn how to go from survive to thrive.

“It’s also really special how Sands has allowed us to incorporate our project-driven learning program into the event, with our children doing many of the jobs to run the event. This provides know-how and confidence, while also positioning them to separate themselves when applying to college. This year’s graduating class gained college acceptances into Stanford, Dartmouth, Brown University, Wesleyan, Georgetown, UC Berkley, Westmont, UCLA and University of San Diego, all on scholarship for academics and tennis.

“One of our youth, Cherrial, has really become the posterchild for how ICF can transform lives.  She came to us with a lot of adversity, anxiety and depression while dealing with a variety of struggles at home, and as a result, she attempted to end her life twice. After the second attempt, she was able to come out a coma and through the support of her mentors and mindfulness tools she gained from ICF, she was able to heal and share her story with hundreds of people. Cherrial personally mentors countless young people that are going through similar struggles. She will be attending Stanford University this Fall as both a QuestBridge and Horatio Alger Scholar. This impact is what we are all about. Cherrial spoke at the first INSPIRE Charity Concert featuring Jewel, and served as a volunteer leader for all three INSPIRE events over the years.

“When we joined the Accelerator, we were a high-quality program with the inability to scale. Although we’ll always be grassroots – we are a much more sophisticated and capable organization, and we have begun the process of taking our groundbreaking work and results and applying it to larger groups of people. We now have a bigger organization, bigger partnerships and bigger supporters. Through the help of Sands, we are able to impact more people than ever before, and we can now tell our story on a bigger stage and in bigger ways, because of the resources Sands has provided.”

“But most important – we are helping to make stories like Cherrial’s possible!”