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Ann Bancroft Foundation Celebrates Grant Recipients At DreamXchange

Achieving equality is a message heard far and wide.

It is at the forefront of several discussions, be it political, societal or economical.

Unfortunately, while equality is being talked about it is not often practiced.

But one local foundation is helping to change that by making sure nothing is standing in the way of a girl and her dream, least of all money.

Through its grants, Let Me Play and Dare to Dream, the Ann Bancroft Foundation helps girls and young women across the Twin Cities achieve their dreams, whatever the cost.

"At heart, and by training, Ann is a teacher. So, giving back is what is important to her," Executive Director of the Ann Bancroft Foundation Sara Fenlason said.

On Thursday, April 28 the Ann Bancroft Foundation will host its annual dreamXchance event from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Minnesota's McNamara Alumni Center to honor past grant recipients.

Fenlason became involved with the Ann Bancroft Foundation in 2014 when she accepted the role of Executive Director. Upon learning of the foundation, she said she immediately felt a connection with its message.

As a child of a social worker and high school teacher there wasn't much extra money, but Fenlason said her parents were able to pay for her to take dance classes and do sports.

"All the things that kids do when they're growing up that are formative experiences for them," she said. "I got the benefit of those experiences. Those activities formed who I am today and contributed to my development. I want to make sure that other kids have it."

One of these kids was Michelle Hedges.

Hedges received the Let Me Play grant in spring 2011. She wished to train with Olympic coaches to further her ice skating career.

"I wanted to get as far as I could in skating. It didn't matter if I was the best in the world or the best in the nation, I just wanted to go as far as I could, enjoy it and love it," Hedges said. "That was really important to me because it's really rare to get to the highest level of figure skating and so I just wanted to enjoy it."

Hedges went on to train with multiple coaches and in 2014 became the Minnesota State Novice Champion.

Michelle Hedges Skating
(credit: Lauren Mueller)

"I definitely think I got an opportunity that I never thought I would have gotten," Hedges said. "During the time I had applied for the grant I was in a tough money crunch, so I actually hadn't been skating for a few months because I couldn't afford it. The opportunity to train with another coach came up and I [thought] 'Oh, how am I going to afford this?' This is the way I did it and I was really excited about it."

Now a senior at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Hedges continues to skate and is a coach for other young girls.

She plans to continue to skate when attending St. Cloud State University next year.

Aside from having a dream, Bancroft encourages girls to find a mentor.

As part of the application process, girls must have an adult that is not a family member fill out a portion of the paperwork.

Fenlason said Bancroft puts emphasis on how it makes young women feel when a person outside their family is supportive of them, and how that experience is as crucial as the activities themselves.

"You should be able to learn from those experiences whether you can afford it or not because they are important," Fenlason said.

And often, the expense is not so large that it cannot be obtained. Fenlason said the average grant is $450.

This $450 can go to dance lessons, figure skating or creating a business of dog walking and leaf raking.

"These grants are as diverse as the dreams of the girl," Fenlason said.

Thursday's event will feature past recipients who will share their story in person and in video.

Outside of Bancroft and Fenlason, there will also be a special guest speaker who has been involved with ABF for 13 years.

A high school guidance counselor from Ulen, Minn. is coming to share her story. Her daughter received a grant 13 years ago, and since then this woman has become a mentor to several other recipients, spreading the message of the ABF.

"The event is a celebration of the girls. Their success and the stories that they have achieved with the grants that we've awarded them," Fenlason said. "What I really hope is that they will have the chance to grow their level of confidence and self-esteem."

The 19th annual dreamXchange event is Thursday, April 28. Tickets start at $100 for adults, $25 for children. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 612-338-5752 or visit the Ann Bancroft Foundation online.

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