Tauck’s “Sparks” Program to Inspire, Educate Inner-city Children Through Travel

Six-Day Journeys Exploring National Park Service Sites in Maryland, Pennsylvania and DC are Paired With In-Depth Educational Curriculum

WILTON, CT (February 2, 2016)  For more than 90 years Tauck has celebrated the transformational powers of travel, hosting over three-million guests on its guided journeys to more than 70 countries and all seven continents.  In 2016 and 2017, the high-end tour and cruise operator will use that expertise to enhance the lives of some who aren’t typically able to enjoy the benefits of travel: inner-city children from low-income families.

Tauck has announced the launch of an initiative called Sparks, through which it will bring sixth, seventh and eighth graders on fully-funded, six-day explorations of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.  The children, from the cities of Bridgeport and Stamford near Tauck’s Wilton, Connecticut headquarters, will also participate in an eighteen-week curriculum prior to their trip that explores the theme of their tour, “In Others’ Shoes.” 

According to Tauck CEO Dan Mahar, the Sparks program grew out of the company’s desire to inspire local youth who may not otherwise have the opportunity to travel.  “We want to open the eyes of these middle schoolers to new places and experiences, and thereby encourage them to create and pursue real and achievable dreams,” said Mahar.  “We’ve seen the power of travel to transform young lives since the introduction of our Tauck Bridges family trips in 2003, and my wife and I have witnessed it firsthand as we’ve raised our own family.”

Mahar noted that this year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service was instrumental in shaping the Sparks itinerary.  “We’ve been bringing Tauck guests to the National Parks since our earliest tours, and this year’s Centennial is the perfect time to explore some of the incredible gems in the National Park system,” said Mahar.  “The itinerary we’ve developed showcases Gettysburg National Military Park, the National Mall in Washington, DC, Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore.”

Mahar’s enthusiasm for the Sparks project was echoed by the filmmaker Ken Burns, who has worked with Tauck to develop U.S. tour itineraries focused on the national parks.  Burns’s 2009 film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” was a decade in the making, garnered numerous awards, and established him as an authority on the parks. “The national parks belong to all Americans, but not all Americans have the same opportunities to experience and enjoy them,” said Burns.  “Tauck is to be applauded for their Sparks project.  Not only will it have a meaningful impact on the program’s participants, but it also supports one of the National Park Service’s key initiatives for the Centennial: to bring younger generations of Americans into the national parks, to inspire and engage them, and to foster the next generation of park supporters and advocates.”

The combination of National Park sites also provided the framework around which an engaging curriculum could be crafted, added Mahar.  That curriculum, which will be taught in after-school sessions beginning in February, is designed to broaden participants’ horizons beyond the confines of their own environment, and open their minds to the experiences of others – both past and present – whose lives are very different from their own.  Study topics include Colonial America, the Civil War and the Underground Railroad, and Amish Culture.  The curriculum will also educate participants in life skills (including confidence, independence and teamwork), and the practicalities of travel, from how to pack a suitcase to proper hotel and restaurant etiquette.

Tauck is working closely on the Sparks program with two local organizations serving inner-city youth in southwestern Connecticut, the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club of Bridgeport and Domus in Stamford.  Tauck is developing all of the curriculum materials, and organizing, funding and executing all aspects of the trips.  The youth agencies are selecting middle school students for each departure, providing a staff member to lead the program and teach the curriculum, and providing three additional staff members (along with the program leader) to chaperone each trip.

Both the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club and Domus had worked previously on an earlier incarnation of the Sparks program operated independently of the Tauck company by the Tauck family’s private foundation.  In recent years, however, the family-run foundation has focused on assisting under-served local youth in other ways.  Nonetheless, the Sparks program had continued to be held in high regard by both agencies, and both were thrilled to recreate it. 

Past Sparks participants are still benefitting from the program’s positive effects today.  As recalled by one alumnus, “Joining the Sparks program helped me change from a shy middle-schooler to a more self-reliant and curious individual.  I had aspirations to attend college before going on the Sparks trips (and) being around all walks of life definitely encouraged my decision and made me more excited to attend a university.  I plan on majoring in psychology, with a possible minor in sociology… I developed a new-found appreciation for the different backgrounds of people and events in history that helped shape the country I live in.”

The six-day Sparks itinerary, which will operate twice in July of both 2016 and 2017, begins with travel from Connecticut to Baltimore and a visit to Fort McHenry National Monument, where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner.  The following day participants travel to Annapolis, Maryland, where they’ll tour the U.S. Naval Academy, before arriving in Washington, DC for a tour of the National Mall and an overnight stay.  After participating in a service project with the National Park Service the following morning, children will tour the U.S. Capitol, the African-American Civil War Museum, and Howard University.  The group next travels north into Pennsylvania to Gettysburg National Military Park and an overnight stay in Hershey.  Following a visit to Amish Country, the group travels on to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, for their final overnight, and a visit to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia en route back to Connecticut the following day.

Those interested in more information can contact Kendra St. John at Tauck at kstjohn@tauck.com.

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