Youth Villages stories

Golf tournament participants with Knoxville Area Association of Realtors banner

East Tennessee’s Backpack Heroes gets big boost from KAAR, ‘Birdies for Backpacks’

Jun 30, 2022 | Blog

Backpack Heroes is an annual Youth Villages fundraiser focused on equipping children and young adults in each of the organization’s service regions with school supplies needed for the upcoming year. East Tennessee is one of those areas, and Youth Villages is grateful for the financial support Backpack Heroes receives from the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors (KAAR) and its Birdies for Backpacks golf tournament.

“We wouldn’t be able to do Backpack Heroes without KAAR members’ support,” said Melissa Jackson-Wade, Youth Villages in-home services program director. “They love the idea of what we do with our kids, and they wanted to do a project with us. That’s how their involvement with Backpack Heroes came about.”

Although KAAR has been involved with Youth Villages and Backpack Heroes for the last 12 years, the Birdies for Backpacks golf tournament began only four years ago. This year’s tournament was held at the Willow Creek Golf Club in Knoxville in mid-June.

According to KAAR’s Communications Director Jeff Fyke, the golf tournament was born due to the growing interest of members in helping with Backpack Heroes. KAAR realized what used to be a line-item item in its budget was now an opportunity to get more people involved and raise additional funding. So, what began as a small outreach project turned into a large golf tournament.

“It’s become one of the bigger community-involvement pieces that KAAR’s been engaged with,” Fyke said.

This year’s tournament had more than 95 golfers compete on 23 teams. While Haun Construction won the tournament title (with a score of 50), Backpack Heroes and the youth the program serves were the real winners.

We’re able to cut a check for $15,000 that purchases the backpacks and all the supplies needed so the children in the east Tennessee region have what they need for school.

- Jeff Fyke

According to Jackson-Wade, the $15,000 raised will help provide 300-350 backpacks for youth in east Tennessee. Over the 12 years of the partnership, KAAR has raised nearly $200,000 for Backpack Heroes.

However, KAAR’s involvement doesn’t stop with its financial support. The group enjoys the other side of the partnership—packing the bags.

“The joy our members have when they stuff backpacks is remarkable,” Fyke said. “Our members bring their kids, and they get excited about it. It’s a wonderful time of not only fellowship but also doing what we’re called to do. Giving back isn’t just giving money; it’s giving of time. A lot of times that is more valuable.”

In late July, just prior to the start of school, KAAR and Youth Villages will stuff backpacks. This year’s process is adding another shift, giving more KAAR members and their families the chance to be involved. The plan is for one volunteer team to load trucks with backpacks and supplies and take them to the Youth Villages’ office. The next day, another volunteer group will stuff supplies in the backpacks to give to youth in the area.

“This runs in the DNA of our people,” Fyke said. “This is a program that is asked about every year, whether from realtors that have been with us for 30 years or ones who just signed up and got their license. Our members desire to do this, they have a heart for this.”

Real estate isn’t the only passion driving these members of KAAR.

“We’re not just in the business of helping you buy or sell a house,” Fyke added. “We desire to create community and that goes beyond the physical structure. This partnership is a way the association and our members can invest in our community.”