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Wonderful Kids Program and More

SparkPeopleHello from Sparkguy

Hi SparkFriends

This week I have a couple of fun items for you. First, as part of our SparkPittsburgh project, several organizations came together to partner with the United Way there for an after-school program called HOST (Healthy Out of School Time). Additional partners on the HOST project include the YMCA and Children's Hospital.

This beta-test involved 15 locations. Each location had one kid at that location wear a pedometer to approximate the steps for all the kids that day and then the staff entered the total steps on the SparkPittsburgh leaderboards that ranked all the locations. This beta-test was a success and we're planning more for next time. The winning team was a YMCA location. On this blog, I share a 45-second video that shows the kids from the winning location getting a tennis lesson from the University of Pittsburgh women's tennis team as their prize.

I hope you can take a look at this short video because it's a great way to visualize what could happen more often if we continue building momentum with the SparkAmerica/SparkEarth campaign.

Imagine us all building so much momentum that we're helping kids and cities all over the world with many partners!

Next, some people have wondered about how we came up with the idea for SparkAmerica/SparkEarth. So I wrote out the full story showing how this originally started with an idea by a SparkPeople member and then our team grew it into a fun program in our hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Now we are excited to expand this concept to all of the US and the world!

Here is the story:

More than 10 years ago, someone in the SparkPeople community started a message board where she posted the number of fitness minutes she did that day and asked the next person to add to her total. Others jumped on board and added their total and kept a running total of fitness minutes. It was funny seeing how this was a manual grassroots effort and there sometimes needed to be math corrections. We saw this and thought it was a great concept, so we automated this and called it the 1 million fitness minutes challenge and had our site do the math for the ongoing total.

Then, someone on our team used this member-led idea to spark an idea for our hometown of Cincinnati called SparkCincinnati. This involved a simple website where visitors would enter their number of fitness minutes from that day plus a social comment and then press enter and the comment was posted into a stream of posts from people in Cincinnati.

But the real innovation we did for this project was having participants select their favorite affinities. This included their:
  • Employer
  • Favorite nonprofit
  • Favorite local university
  • Favorite local sports team
  • More
Then, if a participant posted 30 fitness minutes to the site, those minutes would be added to their individual total, but also to the total of each selected affinity. This meant we could then add up ALL of the posts and create leaderboards that ranked the favorite affinities in different categories.

We also made this into a community movement and signed local organizations as partners and displayed their logo on the SparkCincinnati website. I remember great stories coming out of both the community movement and the leaderboards, including:

American Red Cross

We met with the CEO of the local American Red Cross chapter. She said, “The health and fitness of our first responders is my number one issue. We would definitely like to partner on this project.”

We ended up having 20-30 local partners.

VA Hospital Vs. Children’s Hospital

At one point, the VA Hospital was ranked just above Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on the leaderboards. A woman at the VA became an internal champion and went to all of her co-workers and said, “Our goal is to beat Children’s Hospital on the SparkCincinnati leaderboards!” She wasn’t an administrator; she was just a grassroots fan leader of the project. My friend was the Chairman of the Board of Children’s Hospital at the time. I met with him and said, “Lee – the VA says they are going to beat you,” and I showed him the leaderboards. He said, “Mmm, we’ll see about that!” and sent out an email to the approximate 7,000 employees at the time saying, “Go do this to help us win!” This became a back and forth friendly competition “battle.”

Did You Spark Today?

An HR person from a small company wrote in telling us that every morning when her team walked into the office, she said, “Did you Spark today?” to each employee.

She wanted to win, but also cared about the health and fitness of her team and wanted to continue building a good company culture.


This simple program ended up having thousands of participants with almost no promotion.

Many people wrote in saying they started participating in SparkCincinnati to help their company, but they ended up losing weight, getting fit, and becoming better leaders.

It was neat to see people become Healthy Leaders who then spread the spark to their family, friends, co-workers, and community.

In some ways, this was like a free corporate wellness program for the community. But it was a lot of fun instead of a “program of the month” that doesn’t really motivate people to change their behaviors.

During our time doing SparkCincinnati, the main SparkPeople website exploded in popularity and started having millions of visitors per month. Our small team was swamped trying to keep up with this activity.

Plans for the Future

So we decided to put SparkCincinnati on hold. But from this exciting experience we said that eventually we would re-launch this project as SparkAmerica/SparkEarth.

The vision was to have these localized leaderboard competitions in cities all over the world. But we’d then have all of the fitness minutes, SparkPoints, and steps flow into a global leaderboard than ranks cities, companies, fans of sports teams, and more.

We’ve always thought that if done right, this would lead to the greatest-ever campaign in the areas of fitness & health, leadership development, and community support.

Building the Right Features

The full SparkPeople program is about getting healthy and fit to reach goals in all areas of life. This program integrates the best of health and fitness (elements that help your body) with the best of goal-setting, motivation, leadership, and behavioral psychology (elements that help your mind).

From the beginning of SparkPeople, even though our program applied to everyone and I originally developed it to help busy professionals and this program helped me become a successful entrepreneur with my first company that became eBay's first acquisition, we decided to focus on weight loss because we saw that the program worked well for weight loss and people used their weight loss as motivation to reach goals in all areas of life.

But for SparkAmerica/SparkEarth to truly work, we knew we needed to develop a simple feature that anyone could use.

We are finally doing that with a feature called SparkChallenges that will launch sometime in January. I shared an overview of this feature in another blog.

This feature could be the key to help us make the SparkAmerica/SparkEarth strategy finally come alive. By working together, I think we could all make an enormous impact on many of the most pressing issues the world now faces.

Think back to the beginning of this story. This entire project and strategy originally happened because of the actions of one person and then a small group of people in the SparkPeople community. Then our team and others helped build this out. Now we’re working with great companies like major media companies, the United Way in Pittsburgh, local governments, corporate wellness companies, benefits brokers, and more to bring this alive.

Even with all the big names, our members are still the most important partner for this project!

With little promotion, SparkPeople members have already submitted more than 150 affinities towards reaching our goal of 1,000 new affinities by the middle of 2018. If you'd like to submit your company or other affinity, just visit this page.

This is super-helpful because the growing list looks very impressive as I share it with possible partners. One person can make a big difference. Together I truly believe we can change the world!

Have a great week everyone and thanks for your support!

Chris "SparkGuy" Downie


Chris (SparkGuy)

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