Did you watch the news today? Did it leave you feeling down and depressed about the state of the world? It is easy to look around, feel discouraged, and shrug your shoulders. While that is certainly one option, you could also figure out what gifts and talents you have and how they can better your local community, our country, and even the world at large. That is exactly what one creative did and she is now making her mark, up and down the east coast.
Sarah Obenauer is a Virginia Tech graduate with a background in graphic design. Upon graduation, she began working for a non-profit with a mission to reduce traffic fatalities of teenage drivers. This exposure to the realities of non-profit work was a launching pad for future dreams, ambitions, and ultimately a calling for Sarah.
While working in the non-profit sector Sarah realized that non-profit and humanitarian organizations face a shared problem of not having the creative support they needed to be truly effective. It’s understandable, for a non-profit organization funds are always short and it’s a matter of doing a lot with a little. However, it is more complex than tight budgets. Grant monitors and donors may place limitations on how organizations can spend funding and staffing is often small so even if they could spend the money, they wear so many hats, it can be hard to prioritize. Sarah said, “I saw the impact of good design, but also the difficulties faced by organizations that can’t afford to hire someone or pay a staff member.”
Sarah couldn’t overlook the significant work of non-profits nor could she overlook the significant needs of non-profits. Rather than being discouraged by this problem, she got to work. Sarah spent time brainstorming with her husband, Alex Obenauer. Inspired by the energy and enthusiasm found a Hack-A-Thons, which were happening all around the country, they considered if that concept could be transferable to the needs of non-profits for creative support. Thus, the idea of Make-A-Mark was born.
In 2014 Sarah officially launched her dream and the reality of planning for the first Make-A-Thon 12-hour event began. This inaugural event took place in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. Since that first event Make-A-Mark has provided over $100,000 in services and deliverables to non-profit and humanitarian organizations
A Make-A-Thon is a 12-hour event in which makers are paired with non-profit or humanitarian organizations that have a clear and expressed need for creative support. Past projects have included creating a new logo or graphics, making websites, or creative copywriting to help tell an organization’s story. Sarah, and her team, spend time in advance of the Make-A-Thon evaluating the talents of the makers and intentionally pairing them with organizations, so the maximum impact is achieved.
In only three short years Sarah has gone all-in with Make a Mark and it is now her full time job. Not only that, what began as one annual event in the Roanoke and Blacksburg region is now expanded to a total of five communities up and down the east coast. Sarah is led by purpose and driven by the needs of each unique community. Sarah said, “Make a Mark is much more than pro-bono work. What we are working to do is to build a community, build investment and create a movement of more socially aware citizens in our region.”
Evidence of the social awareness of the region is the volunteers and businesses that emerge ready and eager to help Make a Mark achieve success. Sarah shared on example, “Qualtrax has been such a huge supporter of Make a Mark since the beginning, volunteering their money, their staff, and their office many many times.” The last Make-A-Thon in the Roanoke – Blacksburg region was graciously hosted at Qualtrax headquarters in downtown Blacksburg, a prime location which created the right conditions for successful collaborations between makers and organization representatives.
Sarah knows that to achieve the maximum impact she needs to let the individual community lead. Her approach is one that we can all benefit from taking: “listen first”. Sarah explained, “This is critical because no two cities are the same. We built Make a Mark by listening to the needs in Roanoke – Blacksburg and want to do the same in other areas.
No matter how you have been gifted, or what your job may be, there is a place for you in making a positive impact on the community. The Make a Mark team will continue to do good work locally, in the Roanoke and Blacksburg region and beyond, as new locations are developed. If you are looking for a way to get plugged in and give back, this is a great opportunity to do exactly that. To join Sarah and her team in making a difference you can visit Make a Mark online at letsmakeamark.org and sign up for updates for your area.
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