Breaking the Cycle of Poverty through Fitness
Katie Heggtveit is a very busy person. In addition to being a full-time Nutrition & Food student at Ryerson University and the Assistant Director of Leadership & Outreach at the Trek for Teens Foundation (an organization that helps raise funds for and awareness of homeless youth), she also started her own social enterprise - “Bootcamps for Change.” Bootcamps for Change provides free weekly fitness programs for homeless and at-risk youth, helping them improve their physical health, mental health and resiliency. Horizons for Youth’s team met Katie in August 2017 when she began offering weekly boot camp classes at our shelter.
“Horizons for Youth is a big part of how Bootcamps for Change got started” Katie explains. “I learned on their website that they had limited funding for fitness and wellness programs, so I got in touch with their team and told them that I’m a certified Personal Trainer and would like to offer free boot camp classes once a week.”
Katie Heggtveit found her passion for supporting youth experiencing homelessness when she was only 12 years old. She grew up in London, Ontario in a relatively privileged family. A family friend worked at a local shelter for women and children and this friend suggested that Katie start volunteering there. She was nervous about volunteering at first because of the stereotypes associated with homeless individuals. She believed that she would be surrounded by drugs, alcohol and violence at the shelter. However, once she began volunteering, she realized these myths were far from the truth. She became very close to a boy living at the shelter and recognized that
“the only difference between us was that I had a roof over my head.”
Katie moved to Toronto for university and became an active member of the Trek for Teens Foundation. With the Foundation, she leads school presentations across the GTA that aim to dispel the myths associated with homelessness. She says many students think that people living on the streets or in shelters chose to be there, so it is important to educate students about the real causes of homelessness. She also motivates and recruits students to support this population, because she is not sure if she would have gotten involved without encouragement from her friend.
In August 2017, Katie began offering weekly boot camps at Horizons for Youth to help our clients achieve wellness. Since then, “Bootcamps for Change” has grown and now offers fitness programming for at-risk youth in Toronto, Waterloo and Halifax. Katie acknowledges that fitness classes and gym memberships can be quite expensive, creating a barrier for low-income people to participate in these activities. She dreams that one day Bootcamps for Change will provide free fitness programs across the country - including Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Bootcamps for Change also launched the “#Sweatier for the Better” scholarship - a fund for youth experiencing homelessness to become certified as Personal trainers and Group Fitness instructors. One of these successful scholarship students is a former resident of Horizons for Youth, who now comes every week to lead our boot camp classes.
Katie says that developing relationships with the youth she supports motivates her to continue to increase the impact of Bootcamps for Change. She is striving to create a society where fitness is accessible to everyone. As the Scholarship Program grows, Bootcamps for Change is helping youth escape from the cycle of poverty through fitness, one boot camp at a time.
Written by Stacey Murie