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Surrey’s After School Athletic Programs Are Trying To Save Lives

Surrey’s After School Athletic Programs Are Trying To Save Lives

To describe the city of Surrey as a place where drugs are flowing through the streets like water and passersby are dodging bullets that are flying through the air might be an exaggeration, but sadly, it is not a complete mischaracterization of the troubles the Metro Vancouver’s 2nd-most populated municipality has had to deal with in the last many years.  According to data compiled by Maclean’s from Statistics Canada, in 2010, Surrey ranked as the 8th most dangerous city (with at least 10,000 residents) in the country. This week alone there have been three reported incidents of shots fired, thankfully with no victims.

Despite amped-up efforts to combat crime and drug offenders leading to steep decreases in crime in 2016, this past year Surrey placed 10th across the nation regarding total drug violations-the rate of offenses was twice the average Canadian city. Surrey also took 6th-place “honors” when it came to firearms use-most likely related to the surge in gang related violence throughout Surrey since 2009. Not to mention its residents placed the city as one of the nation’s top offenders for child pornography (4th), fraud (2nd), breaking and entering (8th), robbery (6th), motor vehicle theft (3rd), and is the 9th-ranked city according to the violent crime severity index. Sadly, many youths have not only been part of these ongoing crimes but have been the victims of them as well.

This influx in crime pushed Surrey’s government leaders to create a thorough public safety strategy that urges all levels of government, the RCMP, and the community as a whole to become more proactive in keeping its citizens-especially youth-away from vices like drug usage and gang affiliation. The effort that has taken place is making a difference. So far in the first quarter of 2017, there is a continued decrease in every category of crime in Surrey. However, more must be done to eventually eradicate all crime (or at least the majority of it). Dozens of programs created by the city are focused on socialization, education, and development of youth and much more with this target in mind. Many privately-run organizations have popped up as well in recent years with the hope of creating other ways to keep today’s youths off Surrey’s streets. One method that many groups have found to be particularly successful in doing so for all ages and both sexes is their athletic initiatives, something that is not surprising according to psychodynamic counselor Daniel Smyth, the creator of Sport and Thought, Football as Therapy in the United Kingdom.

The impact of exercise is incredible no matter one’s age, but there are important benefits of exercise that are particular to youth. “The later we become involved in sport the more difficult it may be to experience a positive outcome, but only if developmental processing has not taken place, exercise,” Smyth says. “the reason that athletic participation or exercise may be specifically helpful for keeping youth away from vices could have to do with a strong feeling of satisfaction during and after participation.” “[Drugs, alcohol, and gang affiliation] offer the adolescent who is searching for gratification the same gratification as that of sport,” states Smyth. “thus sport is obviously the positive route to go down offering both individual and team based belonging, internal sense of worth, mental and physical stimulation with the resulting internal neurological feelings that the body associates with “feeling nice”. Drugs, alcohol and gang affiliation also offer these outcomes but clearly are of a negative context.”Surrey programs such as Code Blue, Yo Bro|Yo Girl, Athletics for Kids, and the Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society’s Youth Everlasting Seeds (Y.E.S) are just a few of the many after school programs working hard to keep Surrey’s youth fit and living a productive, crime-free life. All have seen the psychological and developmental impact that Smyth mentions.

Surrey programs such as Code Blue, Yo Bro|Yo Girl, Athletics for Kids, and the Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society’s Youth Everlasting Seeds (Y.E.S) are just a few of the many after school programs working hard to keep Surrey’s youth fit and living a productive, crime-free life. All have seen the psychological and developmental impact that Smyth mentions.The Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society’s focus has been to reach far beyond sports participation as a method to shape positive lifestyles for youth, but their latest program (Y.E.S) is centered around giving young girls a weekly opportunity to develop their social and physical skills through sports like soccer, basketball, etc. “When I first came [to Y.E.S] I was shy, timid, and easily intimidated by others.” says Sarah M. “However, now I have learned new skills and grown to be a stronger, and much more confident version of myself. Before Y.E.S, I played tennis and soccer as a kid, but I stopped as I grew older. When playing with the girls, I was in a more positive mood and energized. The program rekindled and introduced me to my love for sports. It even motivated to me try out for my school’s soccer team. I gained friends, skills, and a new perspective. Y.E.S. gave me an opportunity and skills that I can now take beyond the field or court.”

The Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society’s focus has been to reach far beyond sports participation as a method to shape positive lifestyles for youth, but their latest program (Y.E.S) is centered around giving young girls a weekly opportunity to develop their social and physical skills through sports like soccer, basketball, etc. “When I first came [to Y.E.S] I was shy, timid, and easily intimidated by others.” says Sarah M. “However, now I have learned new skills and grown to be a stronger, and much more confident version of myself. Before Y.E.S, I played tennis and soccer as a kid, but I stopped as I grew older. When playing with the girls, I was in a more positive mood and energized. The program rekindled and introduced me to my love for sports. It even motivated to me try out for my school’s soccer team. I gained friends, skills, and a new perspective. Y.E.S. gave me an opportunity and skills that I can now take beyond the field or court.”

Other young girls in Surrey such as 14-year-old Samantha Ogbeiwi, have found support through organizations like Athletics For Kids whose goal is to work with schools and the community so they can be made aware of students who would like to participate in sport but would not otherwise have the means to pay for the supplies or fees to take part. “I am very blessed and thankful that my kids are involved in sports.” Says Samantha’s mom, Daahyo. “Sports have taught them [her two children] many life lessons. They have been through a lot of ups and downs but pull through when they think all hope is lost. I’ve seen Sam grown into a fine young girl with a hard-working attitude and strong work ethic that has moved her into excellence in many ways.” Daahyo’s son, 12-year-old Michael, is a Canadian record-holding shotput and discuss thrower for his age; he has also been fortunate to receive assistance from Athletics For Kids. “Being in sports has given Michael a lot of confidence and brought out the best in him, doing things that he wouldn’t normally do.” Daahyo says, “Thank you A4k for giving Michael an opportunity to play sports.”

Athletics For Kids Executive Director, Sandy Hancock has worked tirelessly to find youths like Samantha and Michael in Surrey and beyond who need this type of financial assistance. She and the program have provided 85 grants for youth in Surrey alone-over 1000 overall-this past year. *Multiple grants may have been given to one athlete as long as the sports were not overlapping in the same season.

Samantha and Sandy’s interview with Global Morning News can be seen here

In the interview, Samantha made it very clear how her dreams to participate in a sport would not have been financially possible without the assistance from Athletics for Kids. Between travel expenses, equipment expenses and various other fees participating in sport is very expensive. Depending on the province, the average Canadian household spends over $1000 a year for their children to take part in organized athletics as stated in the 2015 ParcipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. A further breakdown by sport reveals that of the cheaper sports to participate in, swimming will still cost a family $400 per child per year. Hockey, undeniably Canadian youths most popular sport, can cost upwards to $15oo. It’s no surprise that 90% of parents asked said that youth sport is too expensive. The report also shows that 61% of parents say that cost of enrollment fees are the reason why 3-17-year-olds don’t participate in sport while 52% say that the cost of equipment is the reason. In parts of Surrey like City Centre, Whalley, Guilford where the median household income is less than $70,000, convincing parents to shell out so much money for sport is a tough ask. For families that are making far less than that, it is nearly impossible without these programs. In each of those neighborhoods-Newton now included- an average of 7.6% of the population over 15-years-old isn’t bringing home any income at all.

Some of today’s community leaders have seen the dark side of the world we hope youth will avoid first-hand. Joe Calendino, co-founder of Yo Bro|Yo Girl Initiative was once a member of the Hell’s Angel’s until his life got turned upside down and he decided he needed to start making better use of his time by helping youths stay off the same path he once rode down. Joe was one of the scrapper’s in the crew. He would later take his street-fighting skills and earn a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. When starting the program, structured martial arts was not in the curriculum, yet, as soon as it was implemented into the routine, it was a great success. “When I first started things,” Joe recalls, “it was first presentations, then from presentations, it moved to drug and gang talks.”

It wasn’t until he met an educator, now his wife, Brenda, who has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from UBC, that they begin to incorporate athletics into the program. Joe goes onto say, “As we developed the curriculum, one of the staples of the program was physical fitness. Through the physical fitness, I started to see that these kids would engage and connect.” Kids who choose to take part in the program are now following in Joe’s footsteps doing Jiu Jitsu, grappling, wrestling, etc. Keeping the kids to come week-in-week-out is not an easy task and requires building deep levels of trust. Joe and his team are devoted to building that trust with as many youths they are introduced to through the city and the school systems they are connected with. Yo Bro|Yo Girl is there to guide youth along the right path. Continued growth is essential but requires youths to take the first step to join (and then stay in) the program if not introduced. As Joe put it so wonderfully, “We’re putting our hands out, we’re not here giving handouts.”

Going beyond the call of duty, the RCMP runs many programs and events that are centered around physical fitness. One of their main programs which has grown exponentially in recent years is Code Blue. RCMP officers are already putting their lives on the line to keep the community safe and free of drugs and violence, but they know better than most that doing just that requires more time and effort than a regular shift.

Sergeant Neil Kennedy now runs the 5-year-old program that was initially started by Constable Troy Derrick in 2012 when he felt the need to assist two brothers from South Surrey from potentially heading down a path of crime later in life, so he asked the young boys if they wanted to work out with him; they accepted. Eventually, the brothers were enjoying the workout program so much; they began to invite their friends. Today, the program is working with eight secondary schools and this year; Code Blue introduced their extension of the program, Mini Blue, which works with grades 5-7 as opposed to Code Blue’s 8-12 graders. “Four years ago,” Sgt. Kennedy remembers, “the RCMP youth unit decided to join Cst. Derrick and offer a program around the same fashion: a fitness based mentorship program that is open to all abilities, those with special abilities, and those not connected to the school community.” Sgt. Kennedy also stressed that Physical activity was a positive tool to help create and build relationships between police officers and youths, particularly in the Mini Blue Program.

The hope is that the more youths engage with the police in a fun setting-fun being the operative word-the more youths will want to cooperate with the police outside of this more controlled setting thus preventing more crime in the future. In fact, 97% of all Canadians (youths 15-19 included) say that fun and relaxation as being “very important” or “somewhat important” benefit of sport as stated in the 2010 Sport Participation Research Paper published in 2013 by Statistics Canada.

Another mission of Code Blue, the aforementioned programs, and a majority of the youth programs in Surrey is to keep kids engaged after the school day ends. Felix Kongyuy, director of the Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society, told me, “We are trying very hard to keep kids away from playing so many video games and watching so much television.” The sad reality of our modern world is that only 9% of Canadian youths aged 5-17 take part in the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity per day according to the 2015 ParcipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. And, when youths cannot be found hitting the target 60 minutes of higher-level physical activity, they can be seen watching television for an average of an hour and a half per day. When 6-17-year-olds where asked what they like to do in their free time, a vast majority of them said things like “watch TV” or “play video games.” Programs like Yo Bro|Yo Girl, Boabab Inclusive Empowerment Society, Athletics for Kids, and Code Blue need to be able to reach as many at-risk youths as possible to keep youths engaged and safe. It helps when there are sharp gains in volunteerism like there has been over the last five years. As seen in a paper written by Mireille Vézina and Susan Crompton in 2013 entitled Volunteerism in Canada, Volunteerism has risen by 12.5% across Canada since 2004.

The city of Surrey is determined to make its streets safe and clear of drugs, violence and any other vice that can harm your children’s future, Surrey’s youths future. After School initiatives like Yo Bro|Yo Girl, Boabab Inclusive Empowerment Society, Athletics for Kids, and Code Blue and the dozens of others are already giving the opportunity to thousands of at-risk youth, but there are many more youths that still need a chance, and you can help them. If you cannot donate your time, please visit websites like www.a4k.ca, www.baobabinclusive.ca, ybyg.ca, or any other local Surrey athletic program to learn more about the city’s great programs, make a contribution, or at least leave a positive message to let these important community leaders know that what their devotion to your children is not being looked over. Connecting with city officials within the public safety division as well as parks & recreation is encouraged too.

In the words of Sgt. Kennedy, “We have the future in our hands with these youths, our future doctors, our future police officers, our future lawyers, service workers, construction workers. We also know have the next percentage of criminals, people making bad decisions, so while we can, while we have them in the school system and while they’re young and can be influenced we want to do everything that we can to connect with them to help them facilitate healthy lifestyle choices. We know that youths that are connected and cared for and valued, that they have that sense of belonging whether it be in the school community or the community at large, we know that these youth do better, they do better at school, they do better at home, they make better decisions, they’re more socially responsible. We know that we have a part in solving what could be our future problems. We need to get involved earlier, and we’re going to do that through our prevention and intervention programs.” Follow the message of Sgt. Kennedy and the hundreds of community leaders that are already doing their part to make Surrey the safe, thriving community that we know it is capable of becoming.

About The Author

Adam Levi

Hailing from New York. Adam moved to Vancouver at the start of 2016. Adam is a life long sports fan who has written about lacrosse, baseball, basketball and even Muay Thai.

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