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 has dedicated her career to strengthening people and organizations that do good in the world. As a certified coach with the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), Val brings a coaching sensibility to all of Blaze’s work, from intensive organizational interventions to the launch of the Trailblazers leadership development program. She has provided executive coaching and advisement for social entrepreneurs, foundation executives, and civic leaders and has facilitated high level leadership forums for C-Suite officers of major corporations such as Google and Kraft International. Val also served as co-facilitator for the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) Class of 2021.
Prior to founding Blaze, Val led the Domestic Strategy and Innovation Division for Foundation Center, beginning her tenure at the organization as director of its regional office in Atlanta and taking on an additional assignment as Interim Director of Education. Her career started at Woodruff Arts Center and includes an appointment as Deputy Director of Fulton County Arts Council, one of the largest local arts agencies at that time.
Val has served on the Board of Directors of the National Council of Nonprofits and Center for Civic Innovation, as well as Art Papers Magazine, a leading publication on arts criticism. She has also served on advisory boards and committees for Spelman Museum, TechBridge, Independent Sector, Americans for the Arts, Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, and LEAP (a national community of ambassadors founded by Venture Philanthropy Partners founder, Mario Morino that is focused on outcomes in the nonprofit sector).
Val earned a Bachelor of Science degree in management from Georgia Tech, a Master of Science degree in marketing from Georgia State University, and a postgraduate certificate from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School. 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 Smyrna, Georgia with her two daughters Kennedy and Summer, and actively stewards the legacy of her late husband Columbus Cook, a talented artist and US Veteran.
Elyse is a strategist who works with innovative organizations on internal systems and long-term planning. Elyse serves as lead on Blaze’s strategic planning and executive placement work, where she brings an ethnographer’s approach to gain deep insights into organizational challenges and opportunities. She has led strategic planning processes for several organizations for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s Toolbox Grant program, and has worked with organizations as diverse as Songs For Kids Foundation and Georgia Humanities. Elyse also serves as Blaze’s resident designer and developer, bringing the company’s Trailblazers Leadership Awareness System and Start With You program to life online and in print.
Prior to founding Blaze, Elyse served as Management and Strategy Director and founding team member for Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation, and provided strategic consulting for a number of Atlanta-based organizations. Elyse got her start in the nonprofit sector at Foundation Center’s Atlanta-based office. She advised nonprofits, taught classes, and managed project and product development for Foundation Directory Online, Foundation Center’s fundraising research tool for nonprofits.
Her volunteer service includes helping to found Impact Hub-Houston, co-chairing Atlanta’s +Acumen chapter, serving 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. She currently sits on the board of Songs For Kids Foundation.
Elyse earned her B.A. in Economics and Religious Studies from the University of Virginia, and recently completed the Flatiron School’s Online Software Engineering program. After some time away in Houston, TX and Charleston, SC, Elyse and her husband Tom are overjoyed to be back in Atlanta, Georgia, their hometown of choice.