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NEWS | March 25, 2024

Cupcakes and Conversations offers engagement, vision boards and next steps for the future

By Master Sgt. Arthur M. Wright D.C. National Guard

Chief Master Sgt. Tracy Sparkman has been in the military for 21 years. In addition to climbing the ranks as senior enlisted leader (SEL) for the 113th Wing’s 201st Airlift Squadron, she’s also a nationally recognized pastry chef, flight attendant and former reality TV show contestant. She’s worn many hats and firmly believes one’s goals and priorities should shift year to year.

“I’m not the person I was two decades ago, and I shouldn’t be,” Chief Master Sgt. Sparkman said. “We should evolve with our goals, victories, and plans for the future.”

On March 21, she brought her perspective to the Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy. In front of an audience of teens contemplating their own next moves she offered more clarity to the paths already before them.

“Mentors are so important—but we need to listen more,” Chief Master Sgt. Sparkman said. “What do our youth want to know? Where do they want to go? And what insight can we provide to them?”

Established in 2023, Cupcakes and Conversations is a youth group within the Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy (CGYCA). While the Academy is a life intervention, dropout reintegration, and General Education Development (GED) preparatory program, Cupcakes and Conversations provides a space for one-on-one engagements with prominent civic leaders and professionals. The latest gathering also brought Johnnie Scott-Rice, chair of the National Congress of Black Women, which was started by the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.

“I just left Capitol Hill, but I needed to also come here. These teens are our city’s future doctors, lawyers, police officers, military leaders, and politicians," Scott-Rice said. "This is an opportunity for them to reverse the bad decisions that brought them there.”

The focus on mentorship found within Cupcakes and Conversations, and Boys to Men (CGYCA's youth group for male cadets), is part of the Academy’s focus on leadership, improving self-esteem, pride, and confidence. Over the course of the program, cadets must show improvement in eight core components: Academic Excellence, Leadership and Followership, Life Coping Skills, Job Skills, Service to the Community, Responsible Citizenship, Health and Hygiene and Physical Fitness.

“We invite people to talk about their careers but also to draft vision boards—putting pictures to words of affirmation these cadets can aspire to have now and, in the future,” said Jewel Douglass, Youth & Family Programs specialist, DC Government Operations-DC National Guard. “We help them find the pictures and images that they want to manifest into the world. People who can identify what our cadets are going through and guide them through the end.”

Cupcakes and Conversations and Boys to Men provide monthly engagements. The Academy is also seeking more mentors willing to share their personal stories in the hopes of graduating more contributors to society.

“It takes a village to transform lives,” said Vinetra Schwartz, admissions coordinator, CGYCA. Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy. “This allows cadets to see and hear more perspectives and see that a lot of mentors have been where they are. These are people who are walking the walk and talking the talk.”

Want to be a CGYCA mentor? Training and background checks are provided at no charge. To learn more, send an email and contact info to

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