Backpack Impact

YES attendees give back to Amarillo community through new service project.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

YES attendees participate in a group discussion following a service project. (Journal photo)

In the midst of meetings, speeches, socials and elections, Bank of America Youth Excellence Seminar attendees found time to serve less fortunate youth in the Amarillo area.

Approximately 200 YES attendees volunteered for Snack Pak 4 Kids July 12. Working cooperatively, they organized hundreds of snacks for Amarillo-area children who are food insecure, children who may or may not get fed at home during the summer or even during the school year.

The project, which relates to the American Quarter Horse Youth Association’s 2017 Reach Out to Impact campaign, was part of an initiative to improve and diversify the activities offered at YES, says Clara Johnson, 2016-17 AQHYA executive committee member.

“We have a bunch of kids who come to YES every year,” Clara says. “When we go to the Hall of Fame, a lot of kids have already done that, so we were trying to think of a community service project that we can do in lieu of that.”

Clara worked with AQHA youth development team members Katie Reynolds and Jacy Hammer to coordinate the event, during which YES attendees participated in a hands-on project and engaged in group discussions about community impact.

“It’s such a fun time,” Clara says. “It was the perfect way to get kids out of the hotel, out of the convention center and really do some good.”

Snack Pak 4 Kids serves more than 7,000 youth in 42 Texas school districts. Its mission is ending weekend hunger in the Panhandle and south plains region, says Ashley York, Snack Pak 4 Kids volunteer coordinator.

The organization’s success is almost entirely due to volunteer effort, Ashley adds.

“We will have well over 4,000 volunteers this year,” she says. “It’s kind of mind-blowing.”

Students’ eligibility for the program is not based on income, Ashley says. Instead, Snack Pak 4 Kids staff members partner with teachers to determine candidates.

“We rely on the relationship between our educators and staff at schools,” Ashley says. “We train them to look for symptoms of hunger. They identify those kids and make sure they’re getting what they need to go home on the weekends, and make sure they come back to school ready to learn on Monday morning.”

In addition to providing assistance for less-fortunate individuals in the community, Snack Pak 4 Kids is also an outlet to empower youth who live comfortably.

“We love for the groups of kids to come in, just so they can see that they have a voice,” Ashley says. “Our youth are our future, and we just want to get them involved and engaged and help them to see that they can make an impact.”

Service projects are an important part of AQHYA members’ futures, and their early involvement will ensure community service becomes a habit, Clara adds.

“It’s our turn to step up,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be horse-related. You can always give back to the community. The world doesn’t turn if it’s not for volunteers.”

Community service does not end at YES. AQHYA members are putting on a canned- and nonperishable-food drive during the 2017 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show August 4-12 in Oklahoma City. The food collected at the Ford Youth World will be donated to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.