Youth Action Labs




Spark-Y is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that empowers youth through hands-on education rooted in sustainability and entrepreneurship. At Spark-Y we serve our mission of youth empowerment through three branches: school programs, an annual internship, and an urban agriculture lab.

These initiatives work together systemically, creating multiple touch points for youth engagement. We do this work to create a more sustainable future while bridging the achievement gap and addressing the workforce shortage here in Minnesota. We believe that our programming has the power to change the trajectory of youth lives.

Collectively, our three branches serve over 3,000 youth annually. We pair hands-on agriculture systems, such as aquaponics, with STEM-based curriculum focused on sustainability and entrepreneurship. Programs are customized to fit workshops, classes, and schoolwide initiatives, such as garden-to-cafeteria campuses.

Spark-Y currently partners with fifteen Twin City area schools with many more on our waitlist. In the coming years we hope to continue to grow our organization and annual budget while serving more youth and expanding our impact.At Spark-Y we believe in planting ideas, like seeds, and watching them grow.

Spark-Y was founded with this thought in mind when Founder, Mary Helen Franze, was inspired to create an organization where youth could give rise to their own enterprising ideas.

After years of experience in service learning, Franze felt that youth were floundering in an adult- driven world, detached from their communities and their natural environment.

“I had a vision for an organization that empowered youth, a place where their authentic ideas and voice could be heard,” said Franze.Today this idea has become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit where over 3,000 youth each year put their ideas into action through hands-on learning experiences centered on STEM and environmental education.

Our students, interns, and partners are responsible for bringing to life the greenest school campuses in Minnesota, developing and implementing commercial- scale sustainable projects throughout the Twin Cities, and for passing on the seeds of environmentally- minded ideation to the next generation of empowered youth.

Spark-Y Today:

Today at Spark-Y we continue to provide powerful, hands-on experiences for Twin Cities youth, from preschool to college, while innovating ways to expand our reach and deepen our impact. One example of this is our Credit Recovery program, a robust work-based learning opportunity for high school aged youth.

In partnership with the Minneapolis Foundation, this program allows 9th and 10th grade students to recover science credits while receiving job-life skills that prepare them for graduation and beyond. Another initiative we are excited about is our youth employment pathway.

Our job pathway allows young people the opportunity to engage in real-world, sustainable projects while getting paid and receiving high school credit.

Both of these models showcase the innovative ways our organization seeks to empower youth while providing real-world and sustainable experiences that create a lasting positive impact in our communities, the environment, and the lives of youth.

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