Ski for Women draws colorful crowd, and women's charities reap the rewards

ldemer@adn.comFebruary 3, 2013 

The annual Alaska Ski for Women on Sunday brought out the zany and smart costumed crowd, but also a few who connect directly to the serious purpose behind the fun.

Among them was Gena Graves, 46, who isn't much of a skier but works with young moms who can focus better on their own health and fitness as a result of items bought through money raised by the ski event.

The big event at Anchorage's Kincaid Park drew about 1,250 registered skiers and an abundance of volunteers -- ski waxers and parking guides, water servers and registrars, costume judges and trail sweepers, even a massage therapist in butterfly wings.

Graves came to help but with so many volunteers, she got to shop the silent auction, snap smartphone pictures of the costumes and cheer on the skiers.

In its 17 years, the Ski for Women has raised more than $1 million for women's programs and has made fighting domestic violence a special focus, organizers say. An Anchorage women's shelter, Abused Women's Aid in Crisis, or AWAIC, is the prime beneficiary, receiving $38,400 last year. It puts the money toward the cost of an advocate who works with children. The YWCA got $10,000 that it uses to run confidence-boosting groups for girls, mainly at schools with a majority of low-income students.

Of the five grants totaling $62,060 last year, the smallest, $2,500, went to Passage House, an offshoot of Covenant House Alaska, the shelter for runaway teens and young adults

Almost 20 years ago, Graves started Passage House to provide a temporary home in an East Anchorage neighborhood for five teens and young women who are pregnant or have just become a mother.

"They pretty much gave a notebook and a house and said design a program that will help teen parents," Graves said.

The grants from Ski for Women donations over the years make a difference for the teens and young women, she said.

The money has gone for bicycles and bike trailers, baby joggers and Alaska Club memberships, high-end blenders and food processors, and an XBox Kinect to get the girls exercising instead of just watching television and playing video games.

"We wanted girls to go from just managing life as a working mother to actually take time for themselves and good, healthy self care," Graves said.

The program staff discovered that the young moms found it too hard schedule-wise to get to a health club, so made an exercise room within Passage House. Donations from other sources have paid for a stationary bike and elliptical trainer, Graves said.

Each night, one of the residents cooks dinner for the household, and the new kitchen appliances help them incorporate fresh vegetables, she said.

Kayla Neuharth, 21, graduated from the program in November 2011 and says it helped her learn to be on her own. She has two young sons, is attending the University of Alaska Anchorage, works with development disabled people at The Arc of Anchorage, and has her own apartment.

"They still help me out to this day," she said.

At Sunday's event, Graves ran into former Olympic skier Nina Kemppel, who is now head of the Alaska Humanities Forum and who served as the race starter and a judge of the costume contest.

Kemppel spoke years ago to a group of kids at Covenant House, including some of the teen moms, and remembers encouraging them to set goals.

"One of the best parts was when she talked about when it doesn't go the way you want, not giving up," Graves said. "And that's often what happens with the kids we have. They get these roadblocks. The message was don't give up, keep going."

None of the young moms made it to Sunday's event but the message is one that resonates, Graves said.

"I like that it's women helping women," she said. "I like that's not just an athletic event, it's a community event."


Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.



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