Vail Valley Foundation raises over $1 million at YouthPower365 Stars Variety Show
The annual fundraising event featured performances from local talent and will fund education programs across Eagle County that are more essential than ever after the pandemic year.
The crowd at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater was in stitches as 11-year-old Alexander Stewart landed punchline after punchline of his standup comedy performance. Stewart is going into the sixth grade at the Vail Mountain School, and was one of ten variety shows performed by local talent at the YouthPower365 Stars Variety Show fundraising event this past Tuesday.
“When I first walked on, I was super nervous, but after I got on stage I just got in the flow,” Stewart said. “I love making people laugh.”
The variety show is a new iteration of the Vail Valley Foundation’s Star Dancing Gala, an annual fundraising event that raises money to support the VVF’s education initiative, YouthPower365. YouthPower365 provides year-round extended learning programs to students and families in Eagle County that span from preschool to career-readiness support.
Performers from across the valley danced, read poetry, sang songs and even put on an aerial show above the stage. Over the course of the evening, initial reports show that the VVF raised over $1 million to help fund the broad spectrum of programs that YouthPower365 provides to the youth of Eagle County.
“I’m just in awe,” said Sara Amberg, Executive Director of YouthPower365. “We are so lucky to be part of such a generous community, and that everybody believes so much in what we do that they will put their resources behind it and invest in our mission.”
This year, the support is more critical than ever as the organization prepares to face the unprecedented education challenges that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When something this extraordinary happens, you don’t know what to expect, and the impacts start to unravel in front of you,” Amberg said. “We know that many students disengaged from school over the past year, and our biggest concern this year is repairing that disengagement and addressing their social and emotional needs.”
Attendees at Tuesday’s fundraising event raised paddles to donate directly to a variety of programs, including financing a month of summer learning opportunities, providing a year of early-childhood education, funding college visits for high school students and more.
“We try to address the whole child in every part of our continuum, because a child’s success is not built off of just one program or one experience,” Amberg said. “You have to support all aspects of that child’s life: the academic piece, the social and emotional piece, the family piece, the access to resources – all of that contributes to their success now and into the future.”
The final performance of the evening was a pair of songs sung by AnaMaria Montes, a recent graduate of the Vail Christian High School and recipient of the YouthPower365 Dollars for Scholars award, which will help finance her college tuition.
“Having the opportunity to receive this scholarship so that I can keep going with my career and study anything that I choose is a big shot, especially being the first generation in my family to go to college,” Montes said.
Preparing for college during the pandemic posed a number of unforeseen challenges for high school seniors around the country, and Montes said that YouthPower365 was there to provide support during the college preparatory process.
“It was difficult because you weren’t able to go to as many in-person scholarship interviews as before, so a lot of scholarships were lost, but with YouthPower they were very flexible and they changed a lot of things just so that we could find new opportunities with scholarships, internships and advisors,” Montes said.
Montes is heading to Colorado State University this fall to pursue a degree in Human Resource Management and continue developing her talents as a vocalist. She plans to return to the valley to work for another local foundation that she’s involved with called The Cycle Effect in Eagle.
“As long as I can help around the community, I know that is something I want to do,” Montes said. “I think it’s the only way to give thanks for all the support that they’ve given us and all the time that they’ve taken to help us. It’s important to me to pay it back.”
YouthPower365 served 2,916 students with in-person programming throughout the pandemic, and is rising to meet the challenges that will accompany returning to the classroom after a year apart.
“We’re growing to meet a need,” Amberg said. “We’ve had to add staff and add new components and get ready to do more than we ever have, and there will be challenges ahead so we need all of the support that we can possibly get.”
Donations can still be made on the Vail Valley Foundation website, and there are also many volunteer opportunities available for people who are interested in donating their time as mentors, after-school program leaders, reading buddies and other roles.
“We will be looking for amazing mentors for our youth who can give them encouragement and be someone that believes in them and someone they can turn to,” Amberg said. “Any donation of time is just as valuable as a financial contribution, and we’d love to bring anyone who is interested into our programs.”
For more information about YouthPower365 and how you can get involved, visit vvf.org/education.