Making Travel Possible with SYF

Jan 16, 2024

The SYTA Youth Foundation’s mission is to connect youth with the resources required for travel experiences, including scholarships to help cover the gaps between cost and affordability.

Just one story of SYF making a difference is with Denver Community Schools out of Iowa. There, band director Dan Cooper has been traveling with students over the course of his two decade career.

Cooper grew to care for two sisters, Sadie and Claretta Larson, as they went through the band program from fifth grade up through high school. Over time, Cooper noticed money was tight for the family at times, but the sisters had a lot of passion for music. With a dad for a bus driver, they would arrive to school early and leave later than other students, spending all that extra time in the music room.

However, that passion hit a roadblock when it came time for the band’s regular trip to Disney World to perform, attend clinics and compete in a Disney festival. Students look forward to this trip for years, starting in elementary school. But as the time drew near, the Larsons realized they may not both be able to afford it, even with fundraisers and working hard over the summer detasseling corn five days a week to save up money.

“I think it hurt because it was specifically a music trip,” Claretta said. “Knowing I’d miss out on the chance to perform in a bigger place, that hurt. That hurt so bad.”

Cooper had heard about SYF and knew they offered scholarships, so he nominated the sisters.

The sisters expressed a huge weight lifted off their shoulders, once they no longer had to worry about missing out. Their friends and peers had been consistently asking if they’d be able to go, and the Larsons could finally, confidently say, “Yes.”

The long bus ride to Disney World was immediately a great bonding experience for bandmates who’d never connected much before, and things only got better once they arrived and spent four days there.

“The beach day was great,” Sadie said. “That was really fun, because we had never been to the beach before. That was probably one of the best days was going to the beach.”

“I live in a landlocked state. Seeing the ocean and being like, this is a real thing, you can touch it, that was great,” Claretta said, adding that she discovered she’s an “adrenaline junkie” after riding her first-ever rollercoasters on the trip.

Other big highlights were Cirque de Soleil and seeing taiko drum performers, along with the band’s own performance. Claretta said the trip really reinforced her love of performing.

Cooper also emphasized how easy it was to work with SYF.

“Our trip happened coming out of COVID. There were so many unknowns, and we had to reschedule our trip three different times before we were actually able to travel. Katy Summers helped me with the process of applying, and then when we changed dates, she was right alongside us through the delays, and assured us that the funds would still be there, without the need to re-apply.”

In the end, the trip was a resounding success, and the girls have just gone off to college, one for cosmetology, and one to be a music teacher.

“We literally cannot express the amount of gratitude that we have,” Claretta said.

This story originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Teach & Travel.

Photo Courtesy of Dan Cooper.