Vail Daily column: Opportunity Fund supports dreams
During my time at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, our most impassioned discussions have evolved around providing opportunities for the children of our community to fulfill their snow sports dreams without being hindered by their family’s financial means. What better embodiment of our motto, “For the kids,” than to provide needed financial assistance to youngsters from the moment they set foot on the hill or Nordic trails as 6-year-olds starting out in Future Stars to their step onto an Olympic podium?
Over the past nine years, over $1.3 million in financial aid has been awarded to Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes. In the current season Ski & Snowboard Club Vail will award over $230,000 in financial aid to more than 120 youngsters, covering up to 75 percent of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program fees. This represents a more than tenfold increase in financial aid from the $20,000 awarded annually not long ago. These increases are extraordinary for an organization of our size, but do not begin to cover the gap in our athletes’ financial needs as they advance up the competitive pipeline.
Personal Funding Obligations
With 12 Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes competing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics and 35 Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes named to a United States Ski and Snowboard Association national team or training group for the 2015-16 season, it is no wonder the ability of our athletes to finance their dream is getting more difficult. The higher the athletic achievement, the more expensive it often becomes to support continued growth and development.
A little known fact about those athletes nominated to a USSA national team is the USSA requirement that athletes pay fees to support their newfound status with the team. In some cases helping to fund the overhead costs of the national program in addition to their travel costs around the world these fees can be considerable. Only as the athlete advances within the national team to international prominence does the financial support increase. This funding requirement is difficult enough for athletes who have graduated from high school, but for those achieving this status while still in middle or high school, it becomes an almost impossible task to focus on fundraising while balancing academics, athletics and international travel schedules.
Opportunity Fund Vision
From this reality the vision for the “Opportunity Fund” was born. The Opportunity Fund is designed to provide support not only for program fees but also the daunting costs of competition travel, camps, equipment and other critical expenses. Its distribution criteria are designed with guiding principles which include merit, need and diversity, taking into account other sources of funding obtained by athletes.
Local athletes residing in Eagle County who have been members of the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail community for five years or more; nominated to a USSA national team; demonstrating financial need through an independent third party process and not having yet graduated from high school or five years or less out of high school, are eligible for grants from the Opportunity Fund. Once an athlete graduates from high school the Opportunity Fund matches other donations on a sliding scale that vanishes at year five.
We live in a community that presents much opportunity to increase diversity among Ski & Snowboard Club Vail snow sports athletes. Dreams do become realities at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, as evidenced by a former Ski & Snowboard Club Vail snowboard athlete who immigrated to the US with his family. This first generation college graduate who received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Dartmouth and is now enrolled in a Ph.D. program, and whose passion was ignited through the vehicle of competitive snow sports during his time at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, is just one example of the power of making an opportunity at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail available across varying demographics and socio-economic groups.
Vision becomes reality
Although Ski & Snowboard Club Vail is in the early stages of fundraising for the Opportunity Fund, I am thrilled to announce that the vision for this fund has become a reality. Thanks to the seed funding of several generous donors, including Wendy and Paul Raether, the Opportunity Fund will make an inaugural distribution this month of $25,500 to nine Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes from a cross-section of USSA Alpine and Freestyle national teams. These meaningful grants range in amount from $1,000 to $7,500.
Over the next year, the Board of Trustees will continue its mission to raise funds and promote the Opportunity Fund as a powerful means to help local kids achieve their dreams. Whether current or future Olympians on their way up the USSA national team pipeline, first generation snow sport athletes from diverse backgrounds, or other extraordinary circumstances, any of which can prevent children’s dreams from becoming realities, it is exciting to speak with potential donors and see them as impassioned about this “For the Kids” initiative as I am.