Some fans of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are making dreams come true for students at a rural Alaska school.

Students at Top of the Kuskokwim School in Nikolai, an Iditarod checkpoint, have been raising money so the school's five fourth-graders can go on a district-wide trip to Anchorage. Principal Tara Wiggins said despite a year of fund raising, students were having a hard time coming up with the cash they needed.

"This community is fabulous at coming out and supporting the kids," Wiggins said. "But in a community that doesn't have many full-time jobs or even part-time jobs, it can be difficult to have money for things like this."

Wiggins said students are excited to go to the Alaska Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Center and the Seward SeaLife Center. They hope to go to a trampoline park and a museum. The cost for the trip plus transportation comes to about $1,400 per student, according to Wiggins, who said that last week they were still about $4,000 short of their goal.

Things turned around quickly. A story from KTVA on the school and its fundraising efforts was seen by a group on Twitter known as the #UglyDogs. 

 

The #UglyDogs are fans of rookie Iditarod musher Blair Braverman and have supported her and other teams throughout the race on social media, as well as in real-life via "mushergrams." Braverman, an author and correspondent for Outside Magazine, documented her path to the Iditarod on Twitter and thousands fell in love with her dog team. 

 

In an interview with NPR, Braverman said the name for the group arose when someone on social media told Braverman to, "go back to your ugly dogs, Karen." Her Twitter followers — 71,000-strong as of Monday night — assumed the moniker.

Rookie Iditarod musher Blair Braverman during the 2019 Iditarod restart in Willow. Her fans are known as the #uglydogs. (Joe Vigil / KTVA)
Joe Vigil / KTVA

Wiggins said when some #UglyDogs saw the KTVA story, members wanted to donate to the school and suggested Wiggins set up a GoFundMe page, which she did.

"There were so many supporters from that group. They were donating a lot of $11 donations since that is Blair's number of her bib," Wiggins said. "And it just kept going and we were all in absolute shock that it went anywhere like it did."

The site raised more than $7,000 in about 24 hours — enough for all the kids and chaperones to make the trip in late-April. Wiggins said she shut it down after that because more than enough money had been raised.

"I am absolutely blown away by how generous these people, who are complete strangers to our kids, are. We now have everything we need plus some extra, which is fantastic," she said.

The Iditarod School District has started fundraising so other fourth-graders in the district can also go on the trip.

Shannon Cole, a member of the #UglyDogs, said quite a few people wanted to continue donating and sought out other fundraising sites to help Alaska teachers raising money for their classrooms. One of those sites is called DonorsChoose.org, created to help public school teachers request much-needed materials and experiences for their students. 

That's where the #UglyDogs found a project by Chugiak Elementary School kindergarten teacher Amanda Fausett. While Fausett's goal was just $328.75 for Legos for her classroom, it went from zero to fully funded the day before it was set to expire.

Some members in the group are even referring to the fundraising movement as the "Igivearod." 

With the grace and grit it takes to deal with a public persona in the age of internet trolls, Braverman hopes to make it to the burled arch in Nome. As of early Tuesday morning, she was resting in Kaltag. Her legions of fans hope to inspire her — and kids across Alaska — to make it to the finish line.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

COMPLETE RACE COVERAGE: