Keeping the ball rolling

Parks Calgary Foundation donates $2.7 million over four years to amateur sport in the city

Amateur sport funding is often the first to go when making budget cuts, which is why the Calgary Parks Foundation is so important in a recession like this.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, the culmination of the previous four years of hard work came together during a luncheon hosted at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

More than 50 beneficiaries of the $2.7 million donated from 2011-2015 attended this thank-you, including Jean-Claude Munyesamu, an immigrant from Rwanda.

“I came here [Canada] when I was young.”

Munyesamu immigrated to Canada 17 years ago when he was just young, but even before coming he was an avid soccer player.

“Now that I have my son, he plays too.”

He was forced to enrol his son into what he described as a “peanut league,” where the coaches and staff are mostly volunteer based, and have little to no experience.

“That’s when I started coaching,” because he wanted his child to have good experiences in sports.

When they moved to Cal-Glen the family encountered issues such as subsidized housing with a majority of the kids being from immigrant families themselves.

“The kids were doing nothing,” he said.

There were no extra-curricular activities for them to get involved in, which leads to “social issues.” Munyesamu believes if the kids can come to school with a story, they will continue to stay in school.

That is when he created Soccer Without Boundaries, a way for low-income and immigrant children to get involved with their community.

Since 2010, more than 100 boys and girls from countries all over the world have partaken in this Saturday soccer club.

“It started with four cones, donated soccer balls and hand-me-down shoes from the Cal-Glen association.” Munyesamu said 25 kids showed up on the first day, and he quickly realized he needed volunteers.

“I approached several churches, and I got quite a few volunteers.”

Cal-Glen, at the request of Munyesamu, waived their application fees for the children in his community.

Getting the kids to and from matches was another difficulty Munyesamu faced.

It is often the case the parents don’t work business hours, and on top of that, only have one vehicle.

“When choosing between making the shift and taking their kids to soccer, you choose the shift.” Volunteers drive the kids, who are often the point of communication, as the parents’ English is usually “not so great,” around to their games.

“The goal is, every Monday morning, the child has a story to tell.”

It doesn’t stop at soccer, either.

Munyesamu organizes business and industry professionals, who are products of immigration themselves, to come in and speak to the kids.

“The kids ask me, ‘my dad was an engineer back home, and here he drives a cab,’ and I have to explain there are different regulations [in Canada].” They’re worried they’ll end up like their parents, he said.

It’s about showing the children they have a “bright future,” and they can be whomever they want to be, Munyesamu said.

After a donation of $27,000 from Parks Calgary Foundation, they were able to purchase new equipment.

“In the summer when I put the nets up, the children walked around the field like they were professionals.” It’s feel-good stories like Munyesamu’s that make David Ardell’s job worth it.

As the chair of the amateur sport committee, Ardell knows, even at the collegiate level, sport is not being funded like it should be.

“Even the post-secondary institutes are eligible for grants,” he said.

Parks Calgary Foundation has given money to the likes of SAIT and U of C over the years.

Ardell said there is no one specific area of the city requiring more money than the next.

“It’s quite surprising actually.”

From Deer Ridge to Tuscany, Calgary’s amateur sport needs are trying to be met.

In terms of the age bracket seeing the most benefits, again Ardell’s response was “everyone.” There are progressive sport leagues in the city, who offer sports for all ages.

One such program was the South Calgary Wado Kai Karate club, who gave a demonstration at the luncheon. On hand were people ages 8 to 43 to demonstrate what they had learned.

Looking to the future, Ardell and his committee have set the threshold for applicants quite wide.

“Through our process we don’t have any sort of targeting method.”

Each applicant gets assigned its own committee member who takes control, and then presents the case during meetings.

Parks Calgary Foundation receives approximately 40 applications each year.

Even if the whole project can’t be funded, the foundation looks to see if they can allocate and grant money towards the goal.

“Trying to get as much money out to as many people is kind of the atmosphere and culture we have around here.”

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