Impact Grant Profile: Cindy McElhinney from Darkness to Light

April 17, 2014Alec Green

April is child abuse prevention month.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, As many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood. Darkness to Light is a national nonprofit organization that is raising awareness of this growing epidemic and using a mix of instructor-led and online training to empower adults to protect the children in their communities.

In 2006, Darkness to Light launched “Stewards of Children®” – an evidence-informed training program that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The program is designed for parents, organizations that serve youth, and individuals concerned about the safety of children. Since its inception, the program has trained over 500,000 adults.

In 2013, Darkness to Light was awarded an Impact Grant from the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation to extend the reach of their online training and meet their long-term goal of educating over five percent of the adult population.

We caught up with Cindy McElhinney, director of programs at Darkness to Light to learn more about their incredible work, the impact of their Cornerstone OnDemand Learning Platform, and their plans to extend the Stewards of Children program to communities around the world.

Why is this work so important?

Darkness to Light has been around for 12 years, but child sexual abuse is an issue whose time has come. The world is ready to recognize that child sexual abuse is not the problem of one socio-economic status, culture, race, religion, or gender. It impacts every community and every person across the globe, and we all have a role to play in preventing it. This is why Darkness to Light exists—to empower people to prevent childhood sexual abuse.

How is the Cornerstone OnDemand technology helping you to achieve your mission?  

Before receiving our Impact Grant from Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, we were on a system that could not handle the kind of numbers we were hoping to reach with Stewards of Children. Our old model was based on facilitator-led, face-to-face trainings and while we knew we had a successful program, we also recognized that it would take armies of facilitators to train millions of people. The only way we could reach as many people as possible was to deliver the program via a scalable and reliable online learning platform, and our old system just was not going to cut it. 

To give you some context, in the first six months after going live with Cornerstone OnDemand’s learning platform, we trained 5,800 people. In the previous six months using our old platform, we trained only 1,800.  

More importantly, I now have the confidence to bring in some larger-sized partners. We have big school districts all around the country that want to train thousands of teachers to prevent child sexual abuse. One state’s attorney general’s office has over 9,000 employees they want to put through the training. Before working with Cornerstone, these types of requests would have scared me. Our organization is talking about training 400,000 teachers in another state and I have the confidence that we can then scale our program to reach millions more. Thanks to Cornerstone, we have the technology and support in place to get us there.

What challenges have you had in running this program?

My biggest challenge and the thing that keeps me up at night is figuring out how can I get this program in as many hands as possible.  Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of “if you build it, they will come.” We know that this training is making a real difference, but almost all of our growth to date has been through word of mouth.  

Stewards of Children takes approximately two hours to complete, which admittedly can be a tough sell, too. But once individuals take the training, they realize it was two hours well spent. The training program features the stories of survivors which create an emotional connection with the learner and demonstrate the need and sense of urgency. Other elements of our training focus on empowerment. People have to be willing to make choices that protect children, take risks, and support each other to create safer communities for children. 

The Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation has provided resources that have already made a difference, from connecting us with the Pvblic Foundation for public relations and advertising to helping us secure a Google Ad Grant and launch our first AdWords campaign. Each of these steps are already making a difference. What’s great about our relationship with the Foundation is that the team is not just providing the technology, but also showing us what's possible and helping us realize what is required to reach more people.  

The program is available in all 50 states.  What plans do you have to expand the Stewards of Children program internationally?

We currently have facilitators in 16 countries in addition to the U.S. and the program is available in English, Spanish, and Icelandic (thanks to the support of private funders in Iceland). But we are approached often by international organizations that want to bring Stewards of Children to their local populations. When you open it up to the world, there are some real challenges. We're a small team –12 people in Charleston, South Carolina – trying to do as much as we can. We're incredibly lucky that our partners like Cornerstone and the YMCA are not only great ambassadors, but enable this small team to have an international presence. At the end of the day, this program is really universal when it comes to protecting children. It will happen… it's just a matter of when.


For more information about Darkness to Light and how you or your organization can enroll in the Stewards of Children online training, visit

About Alec Green

As Chief Marketing Evangelist, Alec Green is responsible for developing the overall marketing plan and strategy for the Foundation, executing all outbound communications, increasing visibility of the Foundation’s programs, and building engagement with our partners... more


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