Northern California Agency Owner Answers Christmas Wishes of Single Mothers in Need

Commercial Coverage Insurance Agency Owner Samantha Tradelius approaches running the nonprofit she started two years ago, The Sparkle Foundation, in the same manner she runs her insurance agency: it’s about taking care of people and living a life of purpose.

Raised in Southern California, Tradelius has grown up in the insurance industry. Her parents own Tarzana-based LyteSpeed Learning, an online professional insurance education resource that offers pre-licensing, continuing education, exam prep, and corporate training classes and programs approved by the California Department of Insurance.

She started teaching classes when she was a teenager, then started her own property and casualty insurance agency at the age of 24. Now, she co-owns Commercial Coverage Insurance with her husband, Paul, and runs the company’s recently opened San Rafael, Calif., location. The agency focuses on property and liability coverage for investment properties such as apartments, and has another office in San Francisco.

But her work doesn’t stop there. Inspired by her grandmother who raised three kids as a single mom in the ’50s, Tradelius started a 501(c)(3) two year ago called The Sparkle Foundation, to help struggling single mothers. The foundation is run by a board of seven women, with Tradelius serving as executive director, and raises money through events and donations to fund enrichment program scholarships for kids in need, and puts on an annual holiday gift drive for nominated families. One hundred percent of what is raised goes to Sparkle causes.

Tradelius said her grandmother, who recently passed away, worked several jobs to take care of her children and never asked for help.

“I wanted to help those moms,” she said. “Sparkle isn’t going to change the world, but it provides a little bit of hope — or sparkle — for someone who needs it.”

Her idea started 12 years ago with a small holiday gift drive.

“I just wanted to do something to give back, and I started talking to people about how and found out about a ‘Dear Santa’ program at the post office,” she said.

Tradelius said kids in need would send their letters to the North Pole — or in this case the Valencia, Calif., post office — and people could go read their letters and purchase the items requested.

“I would sit in this room and I would just cry. These kids were asking for basic things — food, socks, bikes — not iPads or video games,” she said. “I started asking people to help me and donate, and they did.”

She would wrap the gifts and deliver to the kids personally because she “wanted to see the process through.”

Tradelius continued this effort over the years, eventually moving to Northern California, and more people joined in to help. She was encouraged to start a nonprofit to reach even more people. The idea was daunting to her at first, she said. Then one night while sitting at her kitchen table she noticed the sparkle on her kitchen tablecloth and realized, “That’s what we are doing, we are sparkling.”

“When you hand a bag of food to a woman who can’t feed her kids, you see this sparkle in her eye,” She said. “I threw the name out there and it got approved, then we got our IRS approval, and here we are two years later.”

The small holiday gift drive is now a huge community effort. Last year Sparkle helped 17 families and raised $35,000 in cash and gifts. This year was even bigger with more than $70,000 raised in donations and gifts for 28 families, including four Northern California fire victims.

“[The fires] really hit home for me personally because we are in the property insurance world. I knew Sparkle could help those who didn’t have insurance or enough insurance,” she said. “Everyone in our community knew someone who knew someone who lost something.”

The foundation has also given out $15,000 in goods and gift cards directly to single moms affected by the fires.

“We have answered a ton of questions in the agency, but then Sparkle was also able to support those needing help,” she said.

Tradelius said the insurance industry has been incredibly supportive of her efforts, either through donations or in-person volunteering at Sparkle’s annual wrap-a-thon, held on the second Saturday of December in her hometown of Novato. All of the donated gifts are wrapped and delivered to the chosen families by Sparkle volunteers. More than 150 people came out to help this year.

Tradelius said Sparkle’s work is just getting started, and she knows they can do more. For many of those working in the insurance industry, it is a profitable and stable business, she said, and there is a real opportunity to make a difference.

“The biggest message I have is to live a life full of purpose, and where you have the ability you have a responsibility to help,” she said.