Red Deer’s Alexis Holmgren was named Alberta’s student recipient of the 2021 Rick Hansen Foundation School Program Difference Maker of the Year award. (Contributed photo)

Red Deer’s Alexis Holmgren was named Alberta’s student recipient of the 2021 Rick Hansen Foundation School Program Difference Maker of the Year award. (Contributed photo)

Red Deer student wins award for making a difference in community

A Red Deer woman has been recognized as a difference maker in the community.

Alexis Holmgren, 20, was Alberta’s student recipient for the 2021 Rick Hansen Foundation School Program Difference Maker of the Year award.

“It means the world to me to be recognized in this way,” said Holmgren, who is finishing up her Grade 12 at-home learning courses through St. Joseph High School.

As a youth accessibility leader through the Enabling Accessibility Fund, which is a federal program that provides funding for projects to make communities and workplaces more accessible for persons with disabilities, Holmgren successfully advocated for a project to install ultraviolet light-blocking film on the windows of the G.H. Dawe Centre pool.

With this project complete, people with disabling sun allergies and sensitivities can enjoy the pool too.

Holmgren lives with three rare genetic diseases, including a severe allergy to sunlight called Solar Urticaria.

“Unfortunately it makes life very difficult and because of that I wasn’t able to swim in any of the city’s swimming pools,” she said.

When she was 18, she attended a camp in the United States that was specifically designed for young people who suffer from disabling sun allergies. There was a pool at the camp with windows coated in UV light-blocking film.

“I love to swim, it’s an awesome form of exercise and it just feels very freeing. I thought, ‘I think I can bring this to Red Deer,’” she said.

About a year after first envisioning UV light-blocking film at a city pool, the project was approved and eventually completed in the summer of 2020.

Holmgren still remembers how she felt when seeing the project complete for the first time.

“Looking at it, you can’t really tell much of a difference, if any,” she said.

“It basically looks the same as before, but being in there I was able to tell the difference. I had taken off my sun gear, because I cover head to toe to protect myself, and had no reaction standing in there. It was incredible.”

The Difference Maker of the Year award recognizes students, teachers and community leaders who make a positive imapact for people with disabilities, in either their school or wider community, during the 2020-21 school year.

“I am an advocate for accessibility and I have been since I was 12. I actually met Rick Hansen when I was 16 … when I attended the Rick Hansen Foundation Youth Leadership Summit,” Holmgren said.

“Meeting him there and the other people who could relate to the barriers and challenges I was facing, but also had the passion to want to change that, was incredible. Now all these years later, being recognized by the same person is pretty special. He’s saying he’s inspired by me and that’s amazing.”

To see the full list of recipients, visit

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