Augustana athletics fundraiser teams up with community partners

Vikes for Tykes toy drive and fundraiser has been expanded to offer children of Habitat for Humanity families access to Augustana youth programs year round, thanks to a matching grant from the Battle River Community Foundation.

Tia Lalani - 14 February 2019

The Vikes for Tykes initiative has grown from a simple toy drive to a community-wide fundraiser.

In 2016, two Augustana student-athletes developed the "Vikes for Tykes" toy-drive, a fundraiser that was meant to be an easy way for Augustana's sports teams to give back to the community during the holiday season. Just a few years later, that program has now expanded from a simple toy drive to an initiative that will allow children of Habitat for Humanity families to take part in summer camps, as well as athletic and music programming at Augustana. This year, the program collected just over 500 toys, raised $5500 and received a matching donation of $3000 from the Battle River Community Foundation.

Brett Ponich, one of the founding members of Vikes for Tykes, started the program with the community in mind. "The whole thing started as a simple toy drive," he explained. "We donated half of the toys to the Kinettes for their Secret Santa program, and we took the other half to the Stollery Children's Hospital and threw a party there." Although both noble pursuits, the giving didn't stop there. Brett and Nicole Brockman (the other student behind the initiative, who has since graduated from Augustana) continued their efforts by fundraising at local pub nights, and also received donations at games, when people didn't necessarily come equipped with a toy to donate. It was then that they realized they wanted to set up an actual fund and wanted to keep that fund local.

That's where Habitat for Humanity Camrose came in. "People in Camrose sometimes forget that Augustana is a university right on their doorsteps," said Jadene Mah, athletics service coordinator at Augustana. "We wanted a way to expose the Habitat for Humanity families to campus even before university-age so that in the future, Augustana is a natural-fit and post-secondary education doesn't look so out of reach." This approach is very important to Habitat for Humanity's goals as well.

"There's a very demonstrable link between university education and better employment down the road, so anyway we can get our partner families connected with the university is a gateway to a brighter future," said Cody McCarroll, executive director at Habitat for Humanity Camrose.

The Vikes for Tykes crew continued the tradition of handing out donated toys at the Stollery Children's Hospital this year.

Vikes for Tykes began a fund out of Habitat for Humanity that would allow their families to take part in summer sports programs. But again, the momentum continued, and this year, Habitat applied for and was granted a matching fund from the Battle River Community Foundation to help children access even more programming, including any youth program year-round. The Battle River Community Foundation will now offer $3000 in matching funding to support the Vikes for Tykes funding.

"This program is a great fit for Habitat," said McCarroll. "Most of our money goes into our capital costs for home construction-the bread and butter of the program-and although we provide some support for when the families are in their homes, this funding is a great opportunity to round out that support."

Other areas of the community have offered support for Vikes for Tykes as well, including the Canadian Brewhouse, who donated $500 to the Vikings team who collected the most toys, and a prime rib dinner for the whole team who took second place. Local bars and pubs have also jumped on board to help facilitate pub nights, with proceeds going to the Habitat fund.

Although Brett will be graduating next year, he hopes the fundraising and good spirit will continue well into the future. And with the success the program has garnered in its short life thus far, nothing seems out of reach.