DECEMBER 28, 2022 – A year ago, Healthy Futures in Alaska started the new Game Changer program and gave it an important job: Remove whatever hurdle is blocking children from participating in sports or activities, and then get them back in the game.
Coaches, teachers, parents and other adults could apply for Game Changer scholarships so children could participate in physical activities, buy sports equipment, get basic clothing items and more. Once the word got out about the new program, the small Healthy Futures staff realized their own hurdle when it came to reviewing Game Changer applications: The need across Alaska was great and more funds were required to meet it.
Since January 2022, the nonprofit organization received 38 applications and awarded 17 scholarships.
“The sports represented for those 17 awardees are all across the board,” said Kayla Williamson with Healthy Futures. The Game Changer program has helped Alaska children participate in basketball, soccer, horseback riding, cross country skiing, running, baseball, swimming and snowshoeing.
Children at the small Rampart School have fun snowshoeing during the community carnival. The Healthy Futures Game Changer program funded a scholarship to help buy the snowshoes. Photograph courtesy of Healthy Futures.
During the past year, the Game Changer program awarded a scholarship to support starting a new cross country ski team for middle and high school students in Glennallen. The scholarship helped the team buy skis. The staff at Rampart School wanted to teach children how to snowshoe in the small Interior community. A Game Changer scholarship helped buy the new winter gear for the small school. The kids had a blast snowshoeing at the community’s carnival.
A parent of an Alaska child submitted an application to help him cover costs to compete in a Taekwondo tournament outside Alaska. Game Changer funded his scholarship.
“This youth’s hard work and dedication paid off,” Williamson said. “He came back with a gold medal in his age and weight class.”
Raising funds to offer more scholarships
Healthy Futures staff want to be able to fund more scholarships to support active Alaska kids. To meet that goal, the nonprofit organization held a one-week fundraiser this fall for the Game Changer program.
Healthy Futures worked with about 30 partners across the state to bring in donations. That included Alaska athletes, a coach of a local hockey team, community leaders, and the Chugiak High School cross country running team – which turned out to be the top fundraiser, Williamson said. Healthy Futures and the community partners raised more than $30,000. In the next year, these funds will be added to donations from businesses like GCI and ConocoPhillips that also support the Game Changer program scholarships.
“Immediately, the funds raised from the campaign are going to go back out into Alaska communities,” Williamson said.
Starting the Game Changer program
Healthy Futures created the Game Changer fund after it took over a long-running similar program that was called The Basics. The Basics was a nonprofit program that ran for almost a decade. That program worked with school districts and professionals across Alaska, including counselors, teachers and nurses. Those school leaders would hear about a child in need and request help through The Basics. Each time, the request was discreet, minimizing the chance a child would feel singled out or recognized as someone in need of shoes, coats or other items.
Between 2012 and 2021, The Basics helped 10,000 students in school districts from Dillingham to Kenai to Mat-Su. The Basics was able to fill these needs due to funding and support from partners.
In recent years, The Basics faced challenges staffing its volunteer board and looked for a way to continue the work through another organization. Healthy Futures took over that work in the new Game Changer program, believing it fit with the nonprofit organization’s mission to make it easier for all Alaska children to build the healthy habit of daily physical activity.
How to apply
Healthy Futures will consider Game Changer applications throughout the year. Any adult can apply, but the scholarship must go toward helping a child ages 5–18. Each request must be $500 or less, Williamson said.
Adults fill out application forms online. Each application includes a brief summary of the need, how the scholarship will be used, and academic accomplishments for the students involved. Needs can vary, which means one application may ask for funds to pay for new snowshoes while another asks to pay for a bus trip needed to take a sports team to a competition they otherwise couldn’t afford to attend. Applications could request help to pay for a student to take a class that builds skills in a physical activity, or could request gear, like shoes and other clothing.
Find the Game Changer program and Healthy Futures online.