Mountain Recreation sets up youth scholarship program to reach more families in 2023
Bolstered by the Mountain Rec Foundation’s end-of-year giving campaign, the district will be able to almost double the scholarship’s impacts
Mountain Recreation’s youth scholarship program each year opens the door to hundreds of families to allow kids to access programs, facilities, camps and activities.
In 2023, it is expanding the access thanks to new eligibility requirements and an influx of cash from the Mountain Recreation Foundation’s end-of-year giving campaign.
The district’s youth scholarship program was designed to provide equitable access to its programs for all kids in Eagle County.
“It’s important and critical because we really believe that everyone deserves to be happy and healthy and this scholarship allows everyone to have those opportunities, regardless of their family’s ability to pay,” said Lizzy Owens, the district’s community engagement manager.
“You’ve got kids who may really want to play baseball or play hockey and their families can’t afford it. Because of the scholarship, they are able to have the same opportunities that their friends do. And to us, that is really important that we’re able to truly level the playing field,” Owens added.
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More funds, more families
For the past three years, the program has been supported, and the district’s own funds bolstered, by a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. This grant was supplied to the district to help those impacted by COVID-19 but ended last year.
Even with these supplemental funds, which helped the district provide scholarships to “several hundred” families, Owens added that the district gets even more requests that it is unable to fill.
It’s for these reasons that the Mountain Recreation Foundation decided to make raising money for the youth scholarship one of its priorities.
The foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that launched in 2020 to enable the district to accept donations to aid in capital improvements, scholarship funds and the endowment of other resources. The idea is that “the money we’re able to raise for the foundation means we’re saving taxpayers money,” Owens said.
In December, the foundation launched an end-of-year giving campaign to raise funds to increase the number of families it could support with scholarships. In total, it raised $19,950, which Owens said is “more than twice what (the district was) able to allocate.”
In total, with these donations, the district will be able to fund just over $36,000 in youth scholarships this year. However, Owens added that this number is “subject to increase” based on the foundation’s ongoing fundraising efforts.
Each eligible child in a family can receive up to a $210 scholarship that is added to their account and can be used to enroll in Mountain Recreation programs, clubs, sports, memberships and activities. Each family can receive up to $840 in scholarships per year. Applications are accepted on a rolling deadline throughout the year.
In addition to having more funds to allocate to families, the district also changed eligibility requirements so that more families can access these funds. Previously, families that qualified for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program qualified for the program. However, now the district is using the “self-sufficiency standard” to expand the number of families that will qualify.
“We are able to help a lot of people who are within that donut hole of help, where they make too much money to qualify for a lot of social services, but they don’t make enough to be able to help their kids play on the same team as their kids, or go to a summer camp, or even go to a camp that we offer during the school year when the school is closed and working parents need that,” Owens said. “We’re excited about the potential for how many more people we’ll be able to help.”
Owens said the district has already seen the impact of these changes in the number of families reaching out to apply for the scholarships.
More work to be done
Mike McCormack, president of the Mountain Recreation Foundation board of directors, said that being able to help more families this year is “rewarding.” However, he described it as a “grain of sand in a windstorm,” in that it “feels like nowhere near enough.”
“Housing is hard, employment is hard, insurance is hard, child care is hard — these are problems that are systemic and they’re not unique to mountain communities, but they certainly bind us all together,” McCormack said. “So, I think there’s a lot of work to do and we can and should do more of this. And the community has been very gracious and good to us, and we’re really fortunate for that.”
Still, the scholarship is an example of a quantifiable action that has led to immediate gains in the community, he said.
“We live in a valley that from a lot of perspectives is diverse: culturally, generationally, economically. And this is a symbiotic relationship; all the parts are necessary,” McCormack said. “There are people who don’t have as many advantages as others in the community, so this is one way that we can enhance the quality of life by making certain things attainable.”
At the end of the day, this youth scholarship program, “makes life better for people here, where it’s already pretty hard for people to eke out a living and existence,” he added.
To learn more about, or to apply for, the Mountain Recreation Youth Scholarship, visit MountainRec.org.