Sarah Cronk gives girls with disabilities a chance to sparkle

Every girl deserves the chance to sparkle and shine, and nobody understands that better than Sarah Cronk.  This 18-year-old from Bettendorf, Iowa, knows that cheerleading is a great opportunity to get involved at school, make friends and build confidence.  She began spreading the cheer magic three years ago when she helped create the Spartan Sparkles, a cheerleading squad based out of her high school that includes students with disabilities.  Since then, she also co-founded The Sparkle Effect, a program that helps students at schools across the nation create similar squads. 


Sarah has been recognized for her amazing volunteer work.  On May 2, 2011, she was named a national honoree at a ceremony for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Washington, D.C., an annual event that honors students for outstanding community service.  That honor makes her one of America’s Top 10 Youth Volunteers for 2011. 


We caught up with Sarah to talk about The Sparkle Effect, her inspiration, and how you can get involved. 


GL:  How did The Sparkle Effect get started?

Sarah:  In the summer of 2008, I helped to form the nation's first high-school based cheerleading squad including students with disabilities, the Spartan Sparkles. After witnessing the profound impact the Sparkles had on my school and community, I knew that the magic of the program could easily reach into every high school in the country. So, in the spring of 2009, I formed The Sparkle Effect.


GL:  What have you accomplished so far?

Sarah So far, Sparkle Effect squads have been started in 26 schools across the U.S. and one in South Africa. I have raised $40,000, which has helped provide uniforms to 18 of our squads. Last summer, I logged over 1,600 miles to provide training to squads in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.


GL:  How have your friends or family helped?

Sarah My family has been extremely supportive. My older brother, who has disabilities, has been my biggest inspiration throughout this process. Seeing how social inclusion impacted his life made me want to give inclusive opportunities to other teens with disabilities. My parents have also been very helpful. My dad helps me handle the business aspects of The Sparkle Effect and my mom helps me stay organized so I can continue to balance The Sparkle Effect, my school work and my social life.


GL:  What are your hopes for this project in the future?

Sarah I hope that The Sparkle Effect reaches every school in the nation. If I can't do that, I want to create at least 100 squads. Either way, when I am done, game night in America will never be the same.


GL:  What have you learned from your volunteer work?

SarahThrough my volunteer work I have learned two things: First, as teens, we are powerful beyond measure. We have the power to positively impact the lives of other young people and, in doing so, raise the spirits of an entire nation. Second, the more we give, the more we get. By enriching the lives of our peers, we enrich our own lives. No one is better positioned than we teens are to send the simple and powerful message: It's cool to care.


GL:  Who or what inspires you?

Sarah:  I am inspired when I hear from or visit cheerleaders and parents involved in Sparkle Effect programs in their schools. Until I began visiting Sparkle Effect squads last summer, I didn't fully grasp that The Sparkle Effect is doing more than creating inclusive cheer squads. It is creating compassionate teen leaders who are stepping up, creating squads and transforming communities in the process. When I see that other cheerleaders, students with disabilities and communities are experiencing the spirit of inclusion, I am motivated and inspired to do more.


GL:  What advice do you have for girls who want to help others?

Sarah:  Go for it! There are a million ways to get involved, and there is nothing more rewarding than finding your passion and making a difference. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help. When you give to others, people are very willing to help you in return.


GL:  How can other girls get involved in The Sparkle Effect? 

Sarah:  If you feel like your school would benefit from a Sparkle Effect squad, or if you know someone who may be interested in starting a squad, please check out our QuickStart kit at! Get involved today to help us spread the Sparkle and spread the magic!


For more information on The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and how to apply,  CLICK HERE!


by Marie Hansen | 2/1/2016