Chuck Bloom: Lynn Sipiora for Texan of the Year

sourced from: The Dallas Morning News

Posted by Marc A. Sparks in Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX on Dec 04, 2008

03:06 PM CST on Wednesday, December 3, 2008

She has never thrown the winning touchdown pass to capture the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Super Bowl, nor has she won a Grammy or political office. All she has done is … change the world, at least for some people in need in Collin County.

As executive director of the Samaritan Inn, the county’s only homeless shelter, Lynne Sipiora marshals the task of providing food, shelter, counseling and the possibility of a better future to folks many would rather forget. And on April 9, she fulfilled the goal of opening Gateway Apartments in McKinney, the county’s first transitional housing unit for homeless people.

For that achievement, she deserves this nomination for the 2008 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

Think for one moment what Gateway represents to its residents: For the first time in ages, 20 families (and more in the future) can re-emerge into society as functional, productive citizens with a regained sense of dignity after so much pain and loss. Without Lynne’s initiative and oversight, it would never have become a reality.

She hoisted this challenge on her shoulders and willed Gateway’s completion, doing it without one red cent from the government. She found the perfect silent partner in Dallas philanthropist Marc Sparks, who entirely funded the construction and property purchase; got the builders, Darling Bros., to work at cost; and convinced numerous businesses, churches, social groups and individuals to sponsor aspects of the everyday Gateway regimen.

Lynne’s daily task at the Inn is difficult enough; each resident has a sad story behind their predicament. There is the added heartbreak of turning away others (including families with children) due to lack of space and resources. This work can crush most normal spirits and souls, but she always prevails.

Add to this Lynne’s backbreaking schedule of meetings, speeches and fundraising activities – as well as the role of mother and wife, at which she also excels.

“Sometimes it’s pretty overwhelming, but I love my job; it is my passion,” she once wrote me. Her work earned her the 2007 Executive Director of the Year award from the Texas Homeless Network – and that was before Gateway opened.

Lynne now has her sights focused on the next logical step – more beds, plus a homeless children’s day care center. Only a foolish person would bet against her.

Most people know there is no definitive face of “the homeless.” They come from all cross-sections of society. Too often, they are mirror images of ourselves – people who worked hard, followed the rules and searched for the American dream.

However, a stumble here, an illness there, or a divorce that leaves one former spouse without means … and things get out of control. The problem in these rough economic times is only becoming more acute, and the services of the Samaritan Inn will be needed more than ever.

If, for whatever reason fate decides, should it be you or I who faces such tribulations, and you need that dreaded four-letter word “help,” the person you need at your side is Lynne Sipiora – to change your world.

For more about the Samaritan Inn, or to donate or volunteer, go to thesamaritaninn.org.

Chuck Bloom, a volunteer at the Samaritan Inn, is a former columnist-editor for several North Texas newspapers. He can be reached at chuckbloom@hotmail.com or through his Web site, chuckbloom.blogspot.com.

Marc Sparks History – Chapter 2

In 1989 Marc Sparks started yet another highly successful endeavor in the construction surety bonding industry which ultimately morphed into the property and casualty insurance industry. Sparks acquired his local recording agent’s insurance license, a surplus lines license and a managing general agent’s license. Over the next ten years, Sparks focused on the goal of fully integrating the insurance industry. This vision meant not only selling an insurance policy to a consumer but included servicing the policy, fully managing the claim, financing the premiums, and even taking a portion of the risk. To finally fulfill the vision, in 1996, Sparks and a minority partner purchased a distressed property & casualty insurance company in an arrangement with the Texas Department of Insurance and thereafter received “Form A” approval – which is the state’s blessing to own and operate a full-fledged insurance company.

This was a proud milestone for Marc Sparks, and was also the beginning of one of the biggest and most emotional phases of his life. Since starting with a staff of 10 in 1989, Sparks grew the company to a successful insurance holding corporation over the next 10 years. With a focus on business development and quality customer service, by 1999, the company was generating over $160 million in annual premium, with a staff of over 500, 171 retail agency offices in three states, two premium finance companies, several general agencies (wholesale), and an M.G.A. all backed by eleven A and A+ (AM Best) rated reinsurers. The company became public in 1998 and was listed on the American Stock Exchange. There appeared to be no limits to its growth, and it was Marc Sparks’ entrepreneurial dream come true…success, tremendous growth opportunity, happy staff and good health.

At the very peak of its success, the walls started crashing down. The company’s stock started falling fast, and before Sparks and his management team could find a reason for the drop, the Stock Exchange halted trading and the rumors started to fly. Soon thereafter, the coveted A+ rated list of reinsurers stopped backing the insurance policies that were being sold, and Sparks lost the company that had been his passion for 10 years, as well as his business relationships, his stellar reputation, many friends and a wonderful staff.

Over the following years, the lawsuits and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation were amicably resolved. It was an emotionally painful, financially expensive and very personal experience for Sparks. Ultimately, the experience awards a kind of “badge of honor” for an entrepreneur. Sparks allowed himself less than a month to grieve, and wasted no time in looking for his next venture. Sparks knew one thing for sure; he’d built many successful businesses before and would do it again. He knew that his God-given entrepreneurial talent could never be taken away from him.

About Marc Sparks

Marc A Sparks is a leading Dallas Texas start up entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Submit an application for seed funding to Marc Sparks – the Dallas entrepreneur only at www.whoismarcsparks.com.