Story by JACK DALTON
Sportsmanship, Perseverance, Optimism, Respect and Teamwork (S.P.O.R.T.) are the core values of the local Park City, Utah, nonprofit, Youth Sports Alliance (YSA).
Founded shortly after the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, YSA aims to get more kids in the Park City area involved in winter sports. YSA does this two ways, first by providing after-school programs to students in first through ninth grade in the Park City area. And secondly by providing direct scholarship funding through the YSA Stein Eriksen “Dare to Dream” Scholarship Fund to higher-level dedicated athletes (generally high school students), who simply cannot cover their own cost of tuition, training, or travel.
Today, after-school programs remain at the core of what it does. Beginning in first grade, students can explore nearly 30 summer and winter sports on early release school days.
That program is YSA’s Get Out and Play program. According to the website, Get Out and Play introduces kids to as many sports and skills as possible. They can try everything from alpine skiing and snowboarding to speed skating or mountain biking and everything in between. They can also learn things such as basic camping skills. This program is offered up through fifth grade and is open to all elementary school students.
Once students hit middle school they can continue their Get Out and Play experience through ACTiV8. ACTiV8 was developed in direct collaboration with middle school students. According to the website, it provides unique experiences to develop eight of what YSA calls “lifestyle qualities”: Accountability, Confidence, Equality, Inspiration, Kindness, Leadership, Respect, and Versatility. ACTiV8 is available to students in sixth through ninth grade.
The Stein Erikson “Dare to Dream” scholarship is the last big piece of YSA’s community involvement. According to the website, the fund is a need-based scholarship, provided to deserving athletes in any of YSA’s seven partner programs such as Park City Ski & Snowboard or Wasatch Freestyle.
On an annual basis, YSA gives out thousands of scholarship dollars to hardworking young athletes in the community who would be unable to compete without funding support. Since 2014 this scholarship fund has brought in right around $2 million for athletes, according to YSA.
Just like every individual, every business, every corporation, COVID-19 hit nonprofits hard. YSA was no exception. The initial lockdown began in Utah on March 13, 2020. At that point, YSA was quickly forced to cancel and refund all of its after-school spring programs and it immediately started its COVID response planning, which YSA Executive Director Emily Fisher said “was just totally reactionary.”
It also pretty quickly became apparent that most of the key annual events were not going to happen. Jans Winter Welcome, for example, YSA’s biggest annual fundraising event scheduled for fall 2020 was quickly canceled months in advance.
Of course, YSA was eventually able to get the Get Out and Play, and ACTiV8 programs going again sometime in mid-summer, with time and with new COVID safe protocols. And since then, Fisher said in a Zoom interview, those programs have been a massive success at getting kids back outside and active. Seeing their friends, getting in a healthy activity, and building a healthy lifestyle.
Raising scholarship dollars and hosting fundraising events proved to be a slightly bigger challenge, according to many within the organization.
This pandemic year has also resulted in more permanent changes for the organization. And while they were able to host their annual golf tournament over the summer, Jans Winter Welcome became a campaign of direct asks over nearly six months rather than a one-night gala. This campaign turned out to be highly successful for YSA as it raised more than $250,000 according to chief fundraising officer Jana Dalton.
So, what led to this successful campaign in an unpredictable, everchanging pandemic year?
Unlike many other nonprofits or charities, YSA did not seemingly serve an immediate purpose in a pandemic year. It was seemingly, somewhat non-essential. There are plenty of nonprofits that helped with immediate relief, but YSA and organizations like it are the more unsung heroes of this past year.
Thor Kallerud, a longtime donor/board member and new board president, said, “Most critically obviously is helping make sure people have food on the table and are healthy.” And in that sense, he said in a Zoom interview, “YSA is kind of the second tier behind essential nonprofits, serving a value to students in the community, by getting them outside, keeping them active, and helping them forget and hopefully improving mental health.”
YSA has survived this pandemic year thanks in large part to the community around it. Thanks to loyal donors and generous sponsors YSA has a great reputation within Park City. And when it comes to the success of the organization, the proof is in the pudding. Over the last two decades, YSA has contributed heavily to the success of local winter sport/Olympic legends in the community such as Ted Ligety, Sage Kotsenburg, Billy Demong, and Steve Holcomb.
As YSA continues to grow and continues to support the youth of Park City after fighting through the past pandemic year and as it continues to instill each of its core values in amateur skiers and future Olympians alike, longtime donor and new board member Tom Litle said, “With YSA, there is an opportunity to just do more of the good stuff.”