Blaze is a leadership development and change management firm. We inspire people who serve other people to fiercely embrace leadership that is built on authenticity, curiosity, transparency, determination and humanity. We specifically focus on leaders and organizations who are bringing about dramatic change in their community and in their world, providing them with the tools, coaching, and strategic counsel they need to bring big visions into fruition.

The two people responsible for starting this fire are Val Porter Cook and Elyse Klova. Together they bring rigor and whimsy to the work of being a better leader, through self-guided professional development, trailblazer coaching and strategic intervention.

Val Porter Cook

For almost 30 years, Val Porter Cook has dedicated her career to strengthening people and organizations that do good in the world. As a certified coach, she brings a coaching sensibility to all of Blaze’s work, from intensive organizational interventions to the launch of the company’s leadership development system, Trailblazers. She has provided executive coaching and advising for social entrepreneurs, foundation executives, and civic leaders and has facilitated high level forums for C-Suite officers of major corporations such as Google and Kraft International. She also served as co-facilitator for the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) Class of 2022 and as Coach-in-Residence for fellows of the Center for Civic Innovation’s civic entrepreneur incubator from 2017 – 2020.  Currently she is an Innovator-in-Residence for The Hatchery at Emory University.

Prior to founding Blaze, Val led the Domestic Strategy and Innovation Division for the New York based information organization, Foundation Center (now Candid), beginning her tenure there as director of its regional office in Atlanta and taking on an additional assignment as Interim Director of Education. Her administrative career started at Woodruff Arts Center and included an appointment as Deputy Director of Fulton County Arts Council — one of the largest local arts agencies at that time — and a two-year stint on the executive team of Brand Atlanta, the City’s branding effort. 

Val has served on the Board of Directors of the National Council of Nonprofits, Center for Civic Innovation, the Dogwood Festival, and Art Papers Magazine, a leading publication on arts criticism. Additionally, she has been on advisory boards and committees for Spelman Museum, the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech, Georgia State University’s Nonprofit Studies Program, TechBridge, Independent Sector, Americans for the Arts, Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, and is currently an ambassador for LEAP (a national community focused on outcomes in the nonprofit sector). A longtime collector of African and African American art, Val has also published multiple articles as an arts writer for Upscale magazine.

Val earned a Bachelor of Science degree in management from Georgia Tech, a Master of Science degree in marketing from Georgia State University, and postgraduate certificates from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School and Cornell University in governance and conflict resolution respectively. She is a 2003 fellow of Coca Cola’s Diversity Leadership Academy and a 2014 recipient of the Leadership Character Award from the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership and the Turknett Leadership Group.

Val lives in Atlanta with her two daughters Kennedy and Summer, and actively stewards the legacy of her late husband Columbus Cook, a talented artist and United States Veteran.

Elyse Klova

Elyse Klova is Blaze’s chief designer and lead strategist. She is focused on product development and systems change and as a result has spearheaded strategic plans and executive searches for over a dozen of the company’s clients since its establishment in 2017. Her principal role with the company is as designer and developer, bringing the company’s leadership development system, Trailblazers, to life and serving as creative director for Blaze’s visual identity. A gifted interviewer, Elyse brings an ethnographic approach to all of the efforts that the company undertakes — the continuous evolution of the company’s leadership development tools and platforms as well as work on behalf of clients. She is currently serving as an Innovator-in-Residence at The Hatchery at Emory University, providing counsel to student ventures and supporting the overall growth of the Hatchery’s incubator program.

Prior to founding Blaze, Elyse served as Management & Strategy Director and founding team member for Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) and helped shape its initial year of operations. After leaving CCI, she built her own strategic consulting practice, providing counsel to a number of organizations in Georgia. Elyse got her start in the nonprofit sector at Foundation Center’s Atlanta-based office, where she developed her passion and expertise for supporting social entrepreneurs and led on the development of the Nonprofit Startup Assessment. She also advised nonprofits, taught classes, and managed project and product development for Foundation Directory Online, Foundation Center’s fundraising research tool for nonprofits.

Elyse serves as Board Secretary for Atlanta-based Songs For Kids Foundation. Previous volunteer service includes helping to found Impact Hub-Houston, co-chairing Atlanta’s +Acumen chapter, serving on the advisory board for Next Generation Men, and reviewing applications as a panelist for Fulton County Arts Council’s grants and contracts program, and helping to found the Young Nonprofit Professional Network’s Atlanta chapter, where she served as a board member and Marketing Committee Chair.

Elyse earned her B.A. in Economics and Religious Studies from the University of Virginia, and continued her learning through courses at Savannah College of Art and Design as well as The Flatiron School’s Online Software Engineering program, from which she graduated in 2021. After some time away in Houston, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina, Elyse and her husband Tom are overjoyed to be settled back in Atlanta, Georgia, their hometown of choice.