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Opinion: Sport Saves Lives – Resource sector helps inner-city kids get into sports

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Opinion: Sport Saves Lives – Resource sector helps inner-city kids get into sports

Written by Mark Tourigny for The Vancouver Sun, May 27, 2014 

In a prosperous city such as Vancouver, it’s easy to assume the needs of the less fortunate are adequately covered by existing social programs and philanthropic organizations.

However, if it was not for the additional support of corporate donors — including those from B.C.’s natural resources sector — our community would be in a sorry state.

I too once thought the poor are taken care of, that all they need to improve their circumstance is motivation. My views shifted 30 years ago, when I volunteered at the Learning Assistance Centre in an inner-city elementary school. For this middle-class Vancouverite, my experience there was an epiphany. Opportunities abound. but inner-city kids face obstacles the rest of us never do.

Thirty years later, after a university education and a real estate development career, I started, with the help of a few like-minded individuals, the Jerome Outreach Society. JOS hires professional coaches and university athletes to coach basketball, track and field, soccer, and cross-country running at Vancouver-area inner city schools and community centres. Why? Because sport saves lives.

The key to JOS success is two-fold. First, our programs are free: There is no cost to schools, community centres, or kids who participate. Second, JOS pays its coaches rather than rely on volunteers. Paid coaches ensure professionalism and commitment. Our coaching roster is of the highest calibre: mostly varsity level athletes with a sprinkling of Olympians.

That takes money. Jerome Outreach funding comes from philanthropic, corporate, and government organizations, and from the B.C. natural resources industry: forestry, machinery sales, oil & gas. Funding from B.C. resource corporations is a welcomed consequence of a robust natural-resources-based economy.

The stakes are high. Our inner-city kids face social and economic challenges the rest of us could never imagine. Participating in sports provides mentorship and helps guide these kids to a healthy and productive lifestyle.

Testimony to the power of sports is our society’s namesake, Harry Winston Jerome. Harry was an incredibly talented multi-sport athlete who overcame racial and economic hardships to become one of the top sprinters of his time and one of the best athletes ever to represent Canada. A mentor to youth and an inspiration to all Canadians, he received the Order of Canada and was named British Columbia’s Athlete of the Century. Harry died tragically of a brain aneurysm at the age of 42.

Jerome was known for his tireless efforts to help young people. Giving back is the goal too of our JOS financial sponsors. One of our long-time supporters is the Hamber Foundation, the legacy of former B.C. Lieutenant Governor, UBC Chancellor and timber magnate Eric Hamber. Another sponsor is Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, whose heavy equipment sales help power the B.C. resource sector. Another JOS sponsor is Northern Gateway.

Could inner-city programs such as Jerome Outreach Society exist without private-sector assistance? I don’t think so. The financial contribution from the private sector helps fuel programs such as mine that benefit inner-city kids. It is apt that natural resources corporations reinvest some of their revenues into the human resources of our inner city. That is social responsibility.

About 40 JOS coaches will carry out training sessions at 35 Vancouver and Burnaby locations this year. More than 2,000 kids will benefit, many from socially and economically challenged families.

With the financial support of B.C.’s private-sector donors, JOS will continue on with its mission: getting at-risk inner city kids hooked on sports. From sports comes discipline, health, mentorship, leadership and confidence; these are vital qualities these kids need to navigate their way through the perils of the inner city.

Mark Tourigny is president of the Jerome Outreach Society. He is based in Vancouver. For more information please visit www.jeromeoutreach.com

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