Nanaimo Boxing Club coach Bary Creswell runs the Ringside Rescue program for at-risk youths at the club’s facility on Willgress Road.

Nanaimo Boxing Club coach Bary Creswell runs the Ringside Rescue program for at-risk youths at the club’s facility on Willgress Road.

Children in poverty: Community gives kids a place to play

NANAIMO – Coaches, sport administrators and advocates in Nanaimo want to allow children to dare to dream on the sports fields.

Sports are a field of dreams. They always have been and they always will be and those dreams are reasons why Nanaimo will keep trying to give its poorest kids a place to play.

“There’s a narrative that’s out there in popular culture, people rising out of some serious life challenges to play big-time sport,” said Rob Stevenson, football coach at John Barsby Secondary School. “Young people, they’re dreamers still, which is something I think we all were when we were young.”

A lot of coaches and sport administrators and advocates in Nanaimo want to allow children to dare to dream because of the many collateral benefits that come with sports, they say – health, friendship, leadership, co-operation, self-esteem.

KidSport is one organization that offers financial assistance locally. Liza Taylor, chairwoman of KidSport Nanaimo, said her group funds 125-135 children each year, providing up to $200 per child.

“It’s a tiny splash in a very, very empty bucket of need…” she said. “The community has to realize that the cost of sport is becoming unattainable in some areas.”

For the poorest families, she said, sport is a luxury item that they can’t even consider, not when they’re forced with making choices about food, shelter and clothing.

“They’ve come from … a poverty level where they themselves weren’t able to participate in sport. So they don’t, themselves, really understand the significance that sport can make in your life.”

Her organization has helped people who were hurt by the recession, for example, and perhaps lost an income. Sport, Taylor said, helped those families maintain a sense of normality and continuity.

But it can’t always help, and it breaks her heart, she said, to see, at the inner-city schools, the attendance records for primary school, and the health of some of the kids, and shoes with holes in them.

“Speaking not from a KidSport perspective, organized sport is not going to solve those issues,” Taylor said. “These children are barely getting a basic education and then expected to compete in the world.

“And it is not always laziness. It is not always drug-related. It is not always bad parenting. It is not always a choice. Poverty is never an active choice … Their history stems from a history of a history of a history. So something has to change.”

And when something does change, it’s a victory.

The Nanaimo Boxing Club has been running its Ringside Rescue program for more than 10 years, a co-operative effort between the club and the RCMP to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youths. Program costs are minimal, and if families can’t afford it, the children can still come, said Barry Creswell, Nanaimo Boxing Club coach.

“A lot of kids that come from underprivileged homes, they’re in that situation not because of them, but because of society, and their whole life…” he said. “Their mom’s got other issues or their dad’s got other issues that the child doesn’t have, but is unfortunately stuck with the reality of not having enough money.”

The kids who show up for boxing practice are tough, he said, “because life is tough for them,” and then they get in the ring, where money doesn’t matter. “It gives them something to look forward to and get better at and maybe feel good about themselves,” Creswell said.

It worked for Tom Vuu, who was very much an at-risk youth in his first couple years of high school. His family lived on Nicol Street and had just opened Huong Lan restaurant and around Grade 8 or 9, he could very easily, he said, gotten into drug running. Harewood was “Scarewood,” and a grittier place. Fights outside Barsby high school were common.

“You don’t have money or you don’t have anything else to do, so you’re going to go and cause trouble,” he said. “Poor kids don’t have a lot of stuff to do or a support system.”

Football and rugby at Barsby gave Vuu those things. He remembers being asked to play rugby in Grade 9, and he replied that he couldn’t afford it. His family had put everything, he said, into the restaurant.

“If I want to play sports it’s kind of selfish. That’s the idea I had in my head at the time,” said Vuu.

They let him play anyway. He excelled and as the years went on, he couldn’t wait for new seasons to begin. He made a key interception in the school’s first-ever varsity football championship. He was MVP of his Grade 12 rugby team, and when he won the award, he marvelled that he might have never even had the chance to play.

Now the owner-operator of Huong Lan has built the business, expanded three times, quadrupled the staff and put products on supermarket shelves. Vuu is quick to credit lessons of self-discipline and perseverance that he learned through sport.

“If you give kids opportunity, they’re going to take it and you never know what they’re going to become later in life,” he said.

School sports are one of the best ways to create those opportunities, said Stevenson. It’s relatively inexpensive access to organized sport and coaching and it’s so important, he said, that kids keep getting that chance to play, whether they’re Oliver Twist or Richie Rich.

“There’s some pretty neat minds and souls out there,” he said. “If we were stovepiped and segregated just by opportunity, it’s something we wouldn’t have.”

The community is trying. Jumpstart is another sport-minded charity that helps locally. Minor sport associations will quietly give low-income families a break on fees. The City of Nanaimo offers free rec passes to those who can demonstrate need. PacificSport runs a program in Harewood called the After School Sports and Arts Initiative.

“I think Nanaimo is geared to helping the underprivileged kids,” said Creswell. “It’s in the papers, it’s in the news, too, the magic that a coach or a sports organization can make to a child with hardly any effort. Just being there.”

Please click the links to read Coalition targets solutions or Daycare helps young families.

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