Katie Heggtveit, founder of Bootcamps for Change, in Toronto, Canada founded her organization in August 2018 after working at a foundation for homeless youth in 2017 where she learned of a shelter whose fitness and wellness access had been cut due to a lack of funding. As someone who’s own physical and mental health was greatly impacted by fitness, Katie understands the impact of movement on physical and mental well-being and was inspired to reach out, offer help and facilitate her own in-shelter fitness and sports rehabilitation programs.
“I didn’t want to depend on another organization to start or a fund to appear so I became a certified group fitness instructor and a week later, I was volunteering with Horizons for Youth, teaching weekly group fitness classes. Bootcamps for Change was inspired by this experience, by the connections formed with the youth I met in the shelter and by the way something as basic as daily movement can affect positive change,” she says.
Katie’s interests include the relationship between human health and the global nexus of food, nutrition, and sustainability. She's has shared her passions as a TEDx speaker and facilitator of workshops for thousands of high-school and post-secondary students and is always keen for adventure traveling to 36 countries at the age of 24.
“My vision for the organization is to improve the lives of those we serve by creating weekly in-shelter fitness programming and educational workshops for all youth experiencing homelessness. As the program has grown, we have pushed themselves to increase their impact and have created the #SweatierForTheBetter program, a scholarship to certify homeless youth as personal trainers and group fitness instructors,” says the founder.
According to Katie, this creates a way for their participants to pay the gift of movement forward and find employment within the fitness community, dismantling harmful stereotypes that perpetuate self-stigmatization in the population they serve. She says since she began working with youth experiencing homelessness more than a decade ago, she has been driven by the goal of making a lasting impact on their lives by providing a program and a skill set that sets them on a better course.
“Health and fitness are the vehicles driving our ultimate goal of removing barriers for prosperous, healthy and employable youth development. Through the continuous evaluation and development of innovative partnerships, I aim to improve equity and access to movement, decreasing incidence of non-communicable diseases, and strengthening low-income communities through continued learning as well as effective program design,” says the founder.
Katie says she has run over 200 workshops for youth and has certified youth experiencing homelessness to become personal trainers, hiring them internally in the organization and connecting them with local job and mentorship opportunities. She says 100% of youth that have completed the mentorship program have now exited the shelter system and are living independently, working at gyms.
“This is my passion and has shaped the trajectory of my career. Sustainable expansion is my goal and I can't wait to touch lives of youth all over Canada and beyond. I dream of having our programs run in South Africa, New Zealand, USA, Germany, Australia and more. Myself and the Bootcamps for Change team are relentlessly dedicated to serving that mission,” says Katie.