Since joining the Albion Boys and Girls Club, fifteen-year-old Shamar Bryan said he’s noticed a great improvement in school.
“It helps me get my grades up and be physically active. I’ve made new friends and done things that I never thought I could,” said Bryan.
Bryan is a resident of the North Etobicoke community Rexdale, and said the Boys and Girls Club is like a big family.
“The Coordinators are nice, caring, kind and respectful. They treat us well.”
On March 13, Bryan was the recipient of the Sportsmanship Award during the basketball tournament hosted by the Albion Boys and Girls club at the Rexdale Community Hub gym.
The tournament was made up of teams from Boys and Girls clubs from three priority neighbourhoods in Toronto: Jane and Finch, Weston-Mount Dennis and the Albion team representing Rexdale. The East Toronto Basketball Association from the Ontario Basketball Association was also involved.
“Sports teach youth a lot of things. It teaches discipline, punctuality, teamwork and a lot of simple life lessons that they need to learn,” said Yoosrie Salhia, Youth Engagement and Program Coordinator for the Albion Boys and Girls Club. “If you know how to do it the right way, it can be a real good thing for them”
Salhia said when organizing the event with the help of the Program Manager Khudajia Sheikh, it was about far more than just basketball.
“These are communities that are right beside each other and they don’t really do enough with each other for various reasons,” he explained.
“When we sat down and talked about making this tournament, the real purpose behind it was about bringing these neighbourhoods together in a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable,” said Salhia.
He said as a youth worker an important part of the outreach is recognizing the dynamics of the community you’re working in. He said figuring out how to effectively capture the attention of the young people you’re trying to reach is crucial.
“The reality is, that sports are a part of the culture in our neighbourhoods, in particular basketball, and the kids really enjoy it,” he said.
“It’s something that all these neighbourhoods have in common. The way we thought of it was to bring something that they love to the table and make something constructive out of it,” said Salhia.
During an intermission between round-robin and playoff games former three-time Golden Glove boxer turned motivational speaker Spider Jones captivated his audience with a flurry of air punches during an anecdote about sparring with Mohammed Ali.
“You have to know what you’re going for because these kids are sharp,” he said. “You have to be able to gain their attention and entertain them before you can get your message across. You have to communicate before you can relate.”
Jones said working with youth resonates deeply with him and it’s important to reach them before negative influences do.
“We want to reach them before the streets do,” he said. “The streets very easily can seduce young people that, perhaps, don’t have a good support system at home or around them.”
Jones provided anecdotes about his trials and tribulations associated with a life of crime such as his time in prison and losing loved ones to gang violence.
As a fifth grade drop-out who returned to school as an adult and went on to become a journalist and author, Jones said this type of approach is what allows him to deliver the intended message of education being the ultimate liberator.
Jones said he considers it a victory even if just a few young people listen and take away an important message from his outreach.
“Going through life being angry or bitter and having no self-worth or self-confidence is a terrible waste,” he said.
“I don’t want to see children like that, I want to instil confidence in them and empower them so that they believe in themselves,” said Jones. “That’s so important to me, there’s something so gratifying about working with young people.”
“It’s really critical for young people to have a place, in their community, where they can gather, make friends and be introduced to new things,” said Humber’s Director of Community Outreach and Workforce Development Geraldine Babcock. “It’s more than just basketball, it’s an important sense of belonging to your community.”
She said being involved with a community organization introduces youth to a network of helpful resources.
“These are the things that help young people to see their future and where they want to go.”
Babcock said the department represents Humber’s vested interest in outreach within Rexdale and its desire to play a vital role in community building.
“We work together to create access for young people,” said Babcock. “If we didn’t have organizations like this (Albion Neighbourhood Services) in the community we wouldn’t be able to find them to provide this information. It becomes a two-way relationship.”
She added in terms of social infrastructure, Humber could be one of the greatest resources for the community.
Director of Program and Services for Albion Neigbourhood Services, Lisa Kostakis, said an integral part of community building requires recognizing the assets already within a community and making full use of them.
“The whole idea and goal of services from community centres and non-profit organizations is community capacity building,” she said. “It’s building our individual capacities but also building, holistically, the community’s capacity.”
Kostakis said the biggest asset in the entire process is the learning experience where service providers and community members both learn from each other.
“The residents in our community are made up of really great, qualified and skilled individuals,” she said. “Some people who are empowered and others who need empowering, but also people who empower us as a service providers.”
Kostakis said the Boys and Girls Club is just one example of the abundance of great programs offered by Albion Neighbourhood Services.
“It’s a multi-faceted and multi-service agency,” she said. “We have housing services, we have newcomer access services which is designed to help immigration settlement. There are various programs and services that we offer within the community.”
Kostakis said social recreational programs are the hook that draws a lot of youth in.
“Then we can bring in the educational component such as the homework clubs, computer rooms and leadership workshops,” she said.
As for the tournament, Salhia’s senior boys team ended up losing in the finals to the Humber team from Weston-Mount Dennis.
The loss he said however was bittersweet.
“Although we would’ve love to have won, at the end of the day, I told everybody they were winners for being there because they showed commitment to their clubs, peers and coaches,” he said, adding just showing up to make the day happen made them winners.
Salhia said this type of collaboration between the clubs will definitely be repeated in the future.
“It was great to see Jane and Finch, Weston-Mount Dennis and Rexdale all in one room at the same time,” he said.
“Those guys were funny to talk to. It was fun getting to know them,” said Bryan. “The stereotypes aren’t accurate, it’s not really what’s going on in those neighbourhoods.”
Jones said organizations such as Albion Neighbourhood Services empower young people and become a safe-haven in the community.
“It’s a place where they learn social skills, they get love. They are pushed, by people like Lisa, to be the best they can be,” he said. “These people are profoundly dedicated to the young people in this area.”
Salhia said for youth who are interested in joining the Club it’s a simple process.
“All you have to do is come in to 21 Panorama Court suite 14, the Rexdale Community Hub, and come talk to myself Elvis, Jessica or Tonya,” he explained.