On November 23rd we had the privilege to visit Hockey 4 Youth, the recipient of this year’s Toronto Maple Leafs Community Action grant to learn more about their program and the impact they’re making on youth, including connections they’re creating in their community.
Hockey 4 Youth removes barriers and provides access for new Canadian youth ages 14 and up to play hockey at no cost. Their mission is to remove the social and economic barriers while increasing access for new Canadian youth to play hockey and learn valuable life skills through their T.E.A.C.H. program (technology, entrepreneurship, application, community-giving, healthy active living).
FACT: According to the Institute of Canadian Citizenship, 71% of new Canadians express interest in hockey, yet only 1% will get an opportunity to play the game. Cost is often the major prohibitive factor.
There’s a tremendous need for these types of programs as many new Canadians come from low-income backgrounds as they struggle to establish roots in a foreign country.
The Good Ol’ Hockey Game
On behalf of the Foundation, Nancy Donnaperna and Sandy Aniceto visited the Bill Bolton Arena in Toronto to witness two skating programs in action: “Learn to Skate” and “Skills & Drills”. We learned more about their programs from Ivan, a passionate volunteer and teacher from Central Technical School, who is also a facilitator for Hockey 4 Youth.
Participants of the program are youth from 14 to 20 and are comprised of International and ESL students. Students represent countries from all over the world - Philippines, Hungary, China, Japan, Latin America, Iran, Afghanistan – just to name a few. One third of their participants are also females. It’s truly diversity in action!
The youth who participated in this practice are students from Central Technical School, a high school with the largest ESL program in Toronto. Once a week, students from diverse backgrounds walk about 15 minutes after school with their hockey equipment to the arena to hit the ice.
For the “Learn to Skate” program, this was the third time these students were on the ice ever. It’s remarkable to see the determination and perseverance of the youth after a few times stepping onto the ice to experience Canada’s favorite sport. The first thing students are taught is how to fall. A key concept to learn, that can be applied both on and off-ice.
From Barriers to Benefits
As newcomers to Canada, these students are learning to assimilate into a new country, environment and culture. There are language barriers to overcome as well as integrating into a new school with other students. Hockey 4 Youth delivers programs both on and off-ice where a foundation is laid out for their growth and success. With their T.E.A.C.H. program, the students are not only acquiring knowledge and skills, but are entrenched in the Canadian culture which help them feel more connected to their community.
The result is engaged students. As Ivan stated, “we’re creating a stepping-stone for these students”. It’s important for them to get the 14-15 year old’s on the team now, so the youth develop the confidence and leadership skills to become future leaders of their school council. In addition, the students in the program are the most grateful beyond belief. You can tell by the way they interact with their teachers at school. They’re always smiling and bringing them in.
Through the Foundation and our partnership with MLSE, we’re proud to be part of these students’ story and to play a part in enabling and engaging the youth in the community. You never know, one of the students at Hockey 4 Youth might be a future NHL all-star or CEO of a Canadian company.