Sarah Cronk, the Founder of The Sparkle Effect, also serves as its President and Creative Director. Currently a senior at Whitman College, Sarah helped to create and coach the nation's first high-school based inclusive cheerleading squad at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, when she was just 15 years old. While at Pleasant Valley, she served as the captain of the squad that, under her stewardship, completed its 6th season and grew to include 21 students!
For Sarah's work creating socially inclusive opportunities for students nationwide, she has been given one honor after another. Most recently, Sarah was selected for the inaugural Peace First Prize! She was also honored with the World of Children Award, which the press has lauded the "Nobel Prize for child advocates."
In 2012, CNN featured Sarah as a "Breakthrough Woman," Build-a-Bear named her a "Huggable Hero," and L'Oreal honored her as a "Woman of Worth." The Classy Awards selected The Sparkle Effect as the Midwest Human Rights Charity of the Year.
In 2011, Sarah was one of five high school students in the country selected as a National Honoree by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. She was also honored with the "Violet Richardson Award" by the Soroptimists and the "Robert Sheppard Leadership Award" by the National Society of High School Scholars. Whitman College selected Sarah as a "Claire Sherwood Scholar" for her combination of scholarship and leadership abilities. In August, Sarah garnered the $100,000 grand prize at the 2011 Do Something Awards!
In 2010, Sarah was recognized with a "Kids Who Care Award" by Kohl's and an "Amazing Athlete Award" by American Cheerleader Magazine. She was lauded by Do Something as a "dedicated young social activist" on MTV's America's Best Dance Crew's Champions for Charity episode. Clay Aiken's National Inclusion Project recognized Sarah as a "Champion of Change" for the second time for her work in encouraging the world to abandon perceptions of normalcy while learning to embrace and appreciate diversity.
In 2009, Sarah was profiled in People Magazine as a "Hero Among Us." The International Leadership Network chose her as the nation's "Young Achiever of the Year," and she was one of just five students nationwide to be named to Parade Magazine's "All-American Service Team." Oprah Winfrey featured Sarah and The Sparkle Effect on her show in November of 2009 and again in November of 2010!
When Sarah isn't busy generating, funding, and training new inclusive cheerleading and dance teams nationwide, she brings the beauty of yoga to people of all abilities as a certified yoga instructor. At Whitman, Sarah serves as the Membership Chair of her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and works as the senior intern in the Whitman Admissions Office. She has also served as the Senior Resident Advisor in a residence hall housing 140 students.
Linda Mullen, the Sparkle Effect's Executive Director, has been with the organization since its inception in 2009. A lawyer by trade, Linda worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in both Washington D.C. and the Central District of Illinois for close to 20 years, where she specialized in criminal appellate practice. As the mother of a son with a disability and a passionate advocate for inclusion, Linda has counseled parents of children with disabilities nationwide and has been a featured speaker at both Cheerleading Coaches Conferences and Inclusive Practices conferences. She served on The Sparkle Effect's Board of Directors and as its National Director of Outreach before assuming the role of Executive Director in 2014. She also serves as the Vice President of Hand in Hand, a non-profit organization that creates fun recreational and learning experiences for children and young adults, including those with disabilities.
Lauren Delzell serves as the Director of Training of Sparkle Effect Cheer and Dance Teams. Lauren brings with her a wealth of both cheer and dance experience. In her early teens, Lauren cheered both competitively and for her school's football, basketball, and wrestling teams. Lauren has been dancing, both recreationally and competitively, since the age of three! She has received numerous dance awards for solo, duet, and group dances. In high school, Lauren was a member of a school-based performance and competitive dance team that garnered two state titles. Currently a senior at the University of Iowa, Lauren serves as the Vice President of Delta Gamma Sorority's Foundation, volunteers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and serves as a Morale Captain for Dance Marathon! Lauren believes passionately that cheer and dance programs teach many important life lessons, develop positive characteristics in students, and provide valuable lifelong memories. She enjoys traveling the country to provide free on-site training to our Sparkle Effect teams!
Allie Pastrnak, a Sparkle Effect trainer, brings a strong dance background and a firm belief that helping others is the most rewarding way to give back for all of the blessings she has received. Allie has been dancing since the age of 3 and has been dancing competitively since age 7! At age 13, Allie began teaching dance to beginner and intermediate dancers. She has received numerous awards for dance and was a member of her high school's competitive dance team for 4 years. Allie was also a mentor for The Sparkle Effect's first inclusive dance team, the Pleasant Valley Shining Stars. Currently a student at the University of Iowa, Allie is a member of Chi Omega Sorority and routinely volunteers at the University of Iowa Hospitals in the cancer inpatient unit. Allie's cheerful disposition and eagerness to help others make her a great addition to The Sparkle Effect team!
Allison Bureau serves as the Sparkle Effect's Northwest Regional Director of Outreach. Allison is a mother of two children. Her oldest, Wyatt, born in 2005, has Down syndrome and apraxia of speech. Allison is an active member of the special education parent advisory committee (SEPAC) for the Tahoma, Washington School District, volunteers as a guest speaker to promote disabilities awareness and inclusion for local schools, and is the co-founder of JABstone, LLC, a software company specializing in free speech communication technology for children with special needs.
Julianne DeLessio, one of our Sparkle Effect trainers, has been dancing recreationally and competitively since she was three years old. She also cheered for her junior high and high school cheer teams. While in high school, Julianne created and coached the Pleasant Valley Shining Stars, the Sparkle Effect's first high school dance team! Julianne also started her own nonprofit organization, Dance For Me, to bring cost-free, on-site dance workshops to children who cannot access dance classes. Through Dance For Me, Julianne has worked with several national organizations, including the YMCA, Gigi's Playhouse, Gilda's Club, and Do Something, Inc. Julianne attends Rockhurst University, where she is studying Communications and Non-Profit Management.