Four years ago, Gary Hanson got a call on his way home from work and the speaker on the other line had one simple question.
“How do you look in yellow?” asked Patrick Barkley, a member of the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors.
For better or for worse, Hanson was about to find out because Barkley was extending him an invitation to join the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors – a select group of individuals that provide strategic oversight to the bowl.
“I was so excited for the opportunity to serve on the board,” Hanson said. “I used to see people on television and around town wearing yellow jackets and can remember thinking it was cool and I always wanted to get involved.”
From that point on, Hanson immersed himself in the Fiesta Bowl, volunteering for every event, joining various committees and committing himself to learning everything about the organization. These efforts led to his current role as chair of Fiesta Bowl Charities Charitable Giving Committee.
As chair, Hanson leads the 20-person committee of volunteers and three staff members in evaluating every application that is submitted to Fiesta Bowl Charities during the annual grant cycle. The committee individually reviews each application and ensures that the three pillars of the Fiesta Bowl – youth, sports and education – are at the core of every decision. This past year, nearly 400 applications were received, resulting in $2.5 million distributed to 67 Arizona nonprofits during the 2017-18 season.
“Every single application touches your heart when you think about all the people you may impact,” Hanson explained. “We go through and make tough decisions based off who we are and what we stand for as an organization. It is a huge responsibility and a very humbling experience.”
In addition to the charitable organizations who receive funding, for the second year, up to $500,000 of the total grant money will be donated through the Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers program. Hanson was vice chair of the committee during the 2016-17 season and remembers directly feeling the impact of the 100 teachers state-wide who earned a $5,000 grant to benefit their students.
“The teachers were so excited but not for their own sake, what they felt was knowing the impact the grant would have on their students,” Hanson reflected. “That was extremely rewarding to see.”
Through its two annual bowl games in the Valley, the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl and the Cactus Bowl, as well as community events throughout the year, Fiesta Bowl Charities has given more than $10 million to the Arizona community in the last seven years and Hanson, around for the last four years, wears his yellow jacket proudly.
“The more you learn, you start to really understand what the yellow jacket stands for and what an honor it is to wear one,” Hanson said. “Yes we put on two great bowl games that lead to a positive economic impact on our community, but it is so much more than that, it’s about the lives we impact and the organizations we change through our charitable giving.”