Wednesday, July 17, 2024

How a Single Vehicle Changed the Game for This Nonprofit

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A few weeks ago, Emily Fisher was riding in a brand-new Defender 130 with a bunch of teenagers when she decided to run a quick poll. The question was simple: if it weren’t for getting a ride in this vehicle, would you be here? The kids thought for a minute. Then, one by one, they shook their heads.

Fisher is the executive director of Youth Sports Alliance (YSA), a nonprofit that helps get kids outside and improves access to sports programming in northern Utah. The teens she was with were participants of the learn-to-sail program YSA runs each spring. They came from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from longtime locals to recent immigrants from Venezuela. Several of the group were there on scholarship. If YSA hadn’t been able to give them a ride, they said, they’d probably be at home, scrolling on their phones; they had no other way to get to the lake.

Youth Sports Alliance (YSA), a nonprofit that helps get kids outside and improves access to sports programming in northern Utah.
Youth Sports Alliance is a nonprofit that helps get kids outside and improves access to sports programming in northern Utah. (Photo: Morahan Visuals)

“These are students who would never have this opportunity if we couldn’t provide transportation,” Fisher says. In fact, watersports of pretty much any kind would have remained out of reach.

That’s why YSA exists: to make sure local kids of all backgrounds can experience the wonder and empowerment of outdoor sports, from mountain biking and sailing to skiing and snowboarding. Much of YSA’s work involves awarding scholarships, lending gear, and shuttling kids to and from trailheads, put-ins, and ski destinations. This last piece—the transportation—has historically been the trickiest to provide. Which is where that customized new Defender comes in.

It’s a vehicle Fisher never imagined her small nonprofit owning—let alone receiving for free.

The Grand Prize

When Fisher first learned about the Defender Service Awards Presented by CHASE, she knew YSA had to apply. The competition is designed to support hardworking nonprofits across the United States and Canada. This year, it included an award category specifically for Outdoor Accessibility and Education. Fisher was sure YSA would be a perfect fit.

But the competition was fierce and the stakes were high. After a first round of internal selection and a second round of community voting, six winners would ultimately be awarded a total of $32,500 and a brand-new customized Defender 130. The money would be nice, of course, but Fisher had her eyes on that car.

The six winners of the 2023 awards received a total of $32,500 and a brand-new customized Defender 130. (Photo: Morahan Visuals)

At this point, YSA didn’t have a single vehicle to call its own—pretty wild, considering that such a huge part of the nonprofit’s mission involves providing transportation.

“Almost every week, we’re picking up kids from four to five different schools and bringing them to sports programming across the Wasatch Range,” Fisher says. During the 2023–2024 school year alone, the nonprofit had to rent 234 vehicles. Each one cost $400 on average. Which meant a lot of the organization’s limited funds were going to transportation costs.

So, when the 2023 Defender Service Awards came along, Fisher and her team dropped everything to apply. It paid off: after weeks spent creating a video, galvanizing community support, and biting their nails during the intense public voting period, they won the grand prize. Last March, the check hit their bank account and the Defender landed on their doorstep.

Youth Sports Alliance
Youth Sports Alliance touches the lives of more than 2,200 youth each year. (Photo: Morahan Visuals)

“I still can’t believe we won it,” Fisher says. “It doesn’t feel real.”

A Dream Come True

Every time Fisher steps into her office parking lot these days, she has to pinch herself. The new Defender 130 is custom wrapped, featuring YSA’s bold logo. The roof rack is fitted for skis, and the back tailgate sports a huge bike rack. The vehicle has eight seats, maximizing efficiency on each trip. The whole thing is rugged, kitted out, state of the art. It’s meticulously customized for YSA’s mission. It’s everything Fisher could have hoped for.

While the YSA team did host a few events to celebrate the vehicle’s arrival—including a party at Deer Valley Ski Resort that was attended by Lindsey Vonn—they mostly just focused on getting the vehicle integrated into their operation. They shook some hands, thanked their community, brought the car home, and got right to work.

Youth Sports Alliance
Winning the 2023 Defender Service Awards Outdoor Accessibility and Education category was a dream come true for Youth Sports Alliance. (Photo: Morahan Visuals)

The Hardest-Working Car in the Wasatch

Some days, YSA uses the Defender to cover three programs at once. The roomy cargo space easily fits heaps of life jackets and other gear for spring sailing courses, and the tailgate rack accommodates up to six bikes. On busy weekends, YSA uses the Defender to make up to 14 trips per day. Few SUVs work harder.

Having the car has already allowed YSA to dramatically cut back on its vehicle rentals. And since every dollar the nonprofit saves goes directly back into funding scholarships, that means tons more kids will be able to participate in programs this fall and winter.

Youth Sports Alliance
Youth Sports Alliance uses their Defender 130 to make up to 14 trips per day. (Photo: Morahan Visuals)

“Right now, over the course of a four-week program, we’re saving $1,200 [by using the Defender in lieu of a rental],” Fisher says. It costs YSA around $200 to fund a kid’s winter ski program, so that $1,200 in savings means six more kids will be able to ski on scholarship this year. The Defender is, quite literally, a gift that keeps on giving.

This winter, the vehicle will likely pay even greater dividends. Capable, reliable, and equipped with four-wheel drive, the car handles snowy mountain roads effortlessly.

“It’s funny—it’ll be sunny all week, but it always seems to be super snowy every weekend we have to shuttle kids to our programs. It’s definitely winter driving up there,” Fisher says. “This car is really built for our environment, and we’re excited to have it to transport these kids safely.”

Youth Sports Alliance
Capable, reliable, and equipped with four-wheel drive, the Defender 130 handles mountain roads effortlessly. (Photo: Morahan Visuals)

A touch of amazement still lingers in Fisher’s voice when she says this, as if it all still seems too good to be true.

“No one gets into nonprofit work to make money. You don’t expect a lot of support—you just do it because you’re passionate about it.” Fisher says. “But then something like this happens. And it’s just been incredible.”

To learn more about the Defender Service Awards Presented by CHASE or to nominate a worthy nonprofit in this year’s contest, visit

Learn More About the Defender Service Awards

Defender embraces the impossible. Each member of the Defender family is purposefully designed, highly desirable, and seriously durable. A modern-day hero that respects the past but at the same time anticipates the future. Available in 90, 110, and 130 body styles, with up to eight seats, each has a charisma of its own. A beacon of liberty since 1948, Defender supports humanitarian and conservation work with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Tusk Trust. The Defender brand is underpinned by Land Rover—a mark of trust built on 75 years of expertise in technology and world-leading off-road capability. Defender is designed and engineered in the UK and sold in 121 countries. It belongs to the JLR house of brands, alongside Range Rover, Discovery, and Jaguar.

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