The football field at their doorstep
For children ages 6 to 14 living in Toronto Community Housing, KickStart, presented by BMO, has had a huge impact over the past nine springs since its inception. But it’s not just about kicking a ball. Participants from across the city also learn teamwork, leadership and develop physical literacy skills while having fun on the field.
“After operating entirely virtual last year, we’re thrilled to be back at seven different locations this spring, with 180 kids enrolled,” said Vanessa Leslie, Coordinator, Community Sports Programs for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ( MLSE) LaunchPad. “What’s really great about the KickStart program is that it’s run at a recreation center or outdoor lot right next to a Toronto Community Housing building. So it’s accessible to the children who participate, and they all know each other.
KickStart is a partnership between the MLSE Foundation, BMO, which funds the program, Toronto Community Housing and the Toronto FC soccer club. Participants also have the opportunity to attend special events, starting with KickStart Girls Day at the MLSE LaunchPad on May 28. they age. “We know the numbers really drop when they hit their teens,” Leslie says. “There is also an end-of-season tournament on June 4 where all the communities come together to play, with a focus on fun activities and team-building events. Then, all the young people involved will be invited to attend a Toronto FC game on June 25.
“The purpose of the program is more than getting kids to play football,” says Luciano Lombardi, Director, Community Sport for MLSE LaunchPad. “We want to teach football skills, but we also want to make sure the kids like to move, they get more physical literacy, and if we can teach them how to play the game at the same time, great.”
It is planned to expand the KickStart program over the next few years to reach 250 participants thereafter and 350 the following year. “We hope to have 50% of these girls,” says Lombardi. Increasing gender equality in sport is one of the main objectives of the programme.
In addition to children, the program has wider benefits for older youth in the community. Program funding directly provides employment opportunities with mentoring jobs for Toronto Community Housing employees in their respective neighborhoods. “Whether it’s participants or coaches, for this program we really focus on physical movement and life skills and being active for life, and trying to instill those values that we know , may have been affected in the past two years.”
“Toronto FC are very keen to want to provide support, including player or team appearances, which we are currently working to facilitate for this season,” says Lombardi. Toronto FC also supports the program through its social media channels. “Some club staff were now involved in the KickStart launch initially, so they are very engaged.”
“KickStart is an invaluable program for our kids and it’s not just about developing soccer skills,” says Likwa Nkala, Acting Director, Programs and Partnerships for Toronto Community Housing. “It’s also about building a sense of community through physical education and healthy competition for a peer group that sometimes lacks safe environments to express themselves. This program provides children with our communities the opportunity to develop life and social skills, while having fun and staying active.
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