Shelly Boyum-Breen
Shelly Boyum-Breen
Shelly Boyum-Breen hit the ground running in mid-2006 when she established Foundation IX, a nonprofit organization committed to eliminating cost as a barrier to girls' participation in sports and fitness activities. This November, Foundation IX's board of directors-seven successful women who credited the benefits of early sports participation in their own lives-awarded the first of its bi-annual "Let Me Play" grants to 45 Minnesota girls.

"It was nearly 20 months of work coming to fruition," recalled Boyum-Breen, the foundation's president. "[Calling the families were] probably the most rewarding phone calls I've ever made in my life." The recipients ranged in age from 5 years to late teens and participated in activities from hockey to karate and even a dance team. The awards varied from $900 to as little as $25, which Boyum-Breen noted, "can buy a girl a pair of softball cleats [so] she can play safely on the field."

Eight-year-old Crystalyn Hengler of Eden Prairie used her grant to replace her too-small ice skates so she could continue to play in her fifth (!) season of hockey. "They helped me out tremendously [knowing that Crystalyn will] play safely and comfortably," said her mom, Julianne, who added, "I really hope that [the foundation] continues to grow and people see the value behind what they're doing, because I do really think it's a great program."

And it's a program in need of every support. Foundation IX's first round of grants was a bittersweet accomplishment: While 45 girls received funds, another 324 did not. "It wasn't that they didn't have need or a strong story," Boyum-Breen explained. "We just ran out of money."

"Now the challenge is before us: How do we bring in additional funds so that we can serve more young girls?" said founding board member Rayla Allison. The foundation has money set aside for the next round of grants in the spring and is holding fundraisers and sharing proceeds from other groups' charity events-like last month's soccer match between the Minnesota Thunder and the L.A. Galaxy.

Boyum-Breen credits her fellow board members for Foundation IX's tremendous accomplishment. "I'm honored that they would give up their time and energy," she said. "I feel a bond with them that we have such a common goal." The feeling is mutual, according to Allison. "[Shelly] is a tireless advocate on behalf of [girls' sports]," she said. "She's perfect to head up this organization and we're just so lucky."

Both women emphasized the lifelong impact of these grants on girls like Crystalyn. "We can look at what it's going to mean for her when she looks back [and says], 'I asked for help and someone helped me,'" Boyum-Breen said. The lesson is already learned: Instead of going to a large national chain, Crystalyn insisted on using her grant to buy skates at a locally owned sports store. Play it forward, girls.