Working for an organization that receives a lot of uninformed acknowledgments for a lack of community involvement really irks me, especially when the truth in these matters is very much the opposite. That being said, over the past month I’ve written about events and on-going affairs within various arms of the Toronto Blue Jays trying to enlighten anyone willing to read these posts. As someone who was born and raised in Toronto, I’ve seen the city change and become what it is today. Nothing from the time I was ten and playing baseball on local fields has been completely preserved and remains the same to this day, but there are some aspects of this city’s culture that will be enduring of change. What remains unvarying, are the youth within this city who eagerly take to local parks and green spaces to interact with one another throughout the summer months while engaging in fun, activities.
Growing up, my parents gave me every opportunity to try everything; every sport, club, and after-school or summer activity that I wanted, I could try. As the eldest of (what would be) three children, I watched as they did the same for my two siblings and still do, to this day. They encouraged every inclination I had to try new things and grow into who ever I wanted to be from a young age. Despite additions to the family over the years (siblings and a spoiled dog) their encouragement never changed and I continued to discover new opportunities as I got older.
For those of you who have followed from the beginning of this blog, you’re well aware of my fond memories of playing baseball at a young age. Those memories and moments, of which I speak fondly, are thanks to my parents who allowed me to be anything I wanted to be and try new things, regardless of the activity (dance was never truly my calling as I was a shy performer while wearing a leotard). I’ll never forget those mid-summer afternoons and the company I kept during championship games and early morning drives to practices on brisk spring mornings. The chance to be part of a team gave me the opportunity to learn how to be a supportive, reliable teammate to twelve other people and inadvertently taught me valuable life lessons. Sports in general act as a vehicle in teaching young athletes skills they will take with them, far beyond the field and apply them to their every day lives. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the experiences I gained thanks to the opportunities my parents gave me, doesn’t necessarily occur as naturally for others as it did for me and my siblings.
As part of their on-going initiatives within the community, Jays Care Foundation is once again partnering with Toronto Community Housing to execute Rookie League, a summer-long baseball day camp for kids who reside in Toronto Community Housing across the GTA. Rookie League presents kids ages seven to twelve, the opportunity to play baseball and be part of a team and learn life skills (like being a reliable teammate), an experience some may never have had otherwise. Let’s put this into perspective: Rookie League will impact over thirty communities across the GTA and over seven hundred kids will have the chance this summer to play baseball and receive instructional skills on the game and about life. As this city continues to expand and grow, the youth of this city should be recognized and given the opportunity to gain the skills and experiences that will make them an active part of this city as they grow.
In order for Rookie League to be successful, Jays Care holds an annual equipment drive which formally accepted only gently-used and new equipment and this year, Jays Care Foundation is making it easier for fans to donate equipment or personal donations. The equipment drive is held pre-game May 29th-30th, 2010 at Rogers Centre but donations can be made at any time online at www.bluejays.com/jayscare. The opportunity to gain experiences and like skills are invaluable to Toronto’s youth, so I urge you to consider helping Jays Care give kids the chance to learn and grow.
Every spring, when the snow on the ground melts and trees begin showing early signs of life, I fight every inclination I have to run outside with a glove and ball to play catch with any willing participants. Even when I’m stuck inside, there’s a baseball in my purse, which I toss around to temporarily entertain my urges. There’s a reason why spring provokes thoughts of baseball in my mind; I vividly recall summers of playing on a local diamond as I did every spring and summer from a very young age. The first home run, the first stolen base, or the first big win in little league baseball are memories that remain ingrained in the minds of many kids as they grow and continue their lives on and off the field.
This season, the Toronto Blue Jays are continuing their support of grassroots baseball through an initiative to cultivate Amateur Baseball in Canada by partnering with Baseball Ontario. This partnership will provide support to five divisions (Rookie, Mosquito, Pee Wee, Bantam, and Midget) which encourages the youth of Ontario to pursue their dreams beginning at an amateur level.
As someone who played baseball from the age of four, my baseball memories of being part of a team year after year, taught me so many valuable life lessons. In a country that thrives in the winter, baseball gives youth an opportunity to get outside in warmer months to be part of a team and learn new skills while developing or improving on skills previously acquired. The Toronto Blue Jays are focused on growing the game of baseball in Canada and giving an opportunity for everyone to play to game. That being said, the participation and introduction of baseball at an early age gives kids the chance to learn the game and instinctive part of their childhoods.
The Blue Jays host over thirty amateur baseball instructional clinics across Ontario each season. These clinics, which began last weekend, allow for player development with the assistance of qualified instructors and reaches out to kids ages seven to fourteen in local and provincial baseball organizations. The clinics spotlight skills such as hitting, throwing, in fielding, pitching and base running and other basic skills of the game. These skills further the initiative to foster baseball driven goals of young players, allowing them to better their skills as part of their leagues. These clinics have a direct impact on baseball at a grassroots level because they directly involve the youth of smaller communities in Ontario and plant a seed within those communities which they won’t soon forget about, furthering the growth of Canadian baseball.
Sunday, the Blue Jays highlighted their support of Baseball Ontario by hosting Amateur Baseball Day at Rogers Centre. Teams from Ontario came down to the stadium and young players representing nine teams – from the ages of eight to thirteen – were invited to be part of the starting lineup and a representative from a tenth team had the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Brendan Morrow was also in attendance pre-game as a cheque was presented to the President of Baseball Ontario for $25,000 as part of the sponsorship from the Blue Jays organization. Young players throughout the stands at Rogers Centre wore their team uniforms from various associations in the community as well as Jays caps, every player had been given.
Seeing the excitement on the face of nine-year-old part of the starting lineup dressed in his team uniform, Sunday, sparked my own memories of baseball at a young age. At the age of eleven, I hit a two-run home run in the Championship game as a member of the Wildcats. I have vibrant recollections of the white jerseys and gray pants covered in dirt and the smiles on our faces. I will forever remember the moment that I rounded third base, looking over to see twelve girls cheering and going on to win a second consecutive championship. Those memories will stay with me and return every spring at the sight of freshly painted lines on a diamond or the smell of the grass at the local park. It is those memories that stay with Major League Players as they accomplish their childhood dreams of playing in the big leagues.
Amateur Baseball Day at Rogers Centre and Amateur Baseball Clinics are only two of the ongoing initiatives the Blue Jays execute throughout the season to aid the growth of the game, locally and nationally. Youth in Ontario are fortunate to have the opportunity to play summer baseball and develop and grow as they’re part of a team and a community in cities across the country. I’ll be following this partnership between the Blue Jays and Baseball Ontario as well as the various Blue Jays Amateur Baseball weekend clinics, all season long. Baseball at a grassroots level impacts the lives of so many youth in this country every year and this season, the Blue Jays continue to encourage amateur players to pursue their Major League dreams.
1992, Jays Care
Foundation has been empowering children and youth in need, inspiring
make positive choices and helping them realize their dreams by providing
to programs that support physical activity, education, and life-skill
Teamwork, involvement, contribution, commitment, passion, and
dedication; six simple
words most would not associate with both a professional baseball team
charitable foundation but all of which explain the underpinning
behind each entity.
field, the Toronto Blue Jays believe in the heart and hustle within the
the passion and dedication it takes to work towards one goal in unity,
player contributes to the best of their own abilities. The charitable
the Toronto Blue Jays, Jays Care Foundation, extends their efforts off
field, working to engage and inspire youth within the community through
programming and various youth-based programs and organizations.
the grant recipients of 2009 were recognized during the pre-game
ceremonies at Rogers Centre prior to taking in the game and having a
chat with one another, as part of the Annual Jays Care Foundation Grand
Grants Recognition Night. Most importantly, it marked a notable occasion
which Jays Care Foundation awarded the selected organizations and
the funding from the Grand Slam Grants initiative.
When asked how rewarding it is to
see students succeed and benefit from teaching basic life skills, Jeff
President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Ontario, one of the
recipients, had only one word: “unbelievable.” While he spoke and
explained the specifics of how Junior Achievement influences and impacts
life skills of over 80,000 students a year, the smile on his face grew.
witnessed the success first hand of the charity which speaks to youth
financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and workplace readiness in the
Underpinning those messages are life lessons about leadership, the
of staying in school, and living your dreams. Good was once told that he
changed the outlook of a young student and opened her eyes to a whole
world. “That’s what Junior Achievement will do this year 80,000 times
importantly, through the support of the Jays Care Grant, we will be able
reach that many more students.”
through these partnerships that youth are given a chance to become who
to be and are encouraged to pursue their dreams and aspirations, no
their background or upbringing. It is with that chance that these youth
have the opportunity to become an active part of a community, in this
because of the organization behind the Blue Jays.
Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre is situated in a high-risk area of Mississauga amid a townhouse complex
according to staff member Lindel Merraro “allows them to be right there
children.” The programs, offered for children ages six
to twelve, are free of charge and encourage
community participation and work towards creating positive community
involvement and interaction. The grant funding directly impacts one
the program which is called the Kids Fun Club, an afternoon program
homework help, healthy snacks and most importantly a positive place to go once
is done for the day. “The kids love it,” commented Merraro, while taking
third inning of the Blue Jays victory Thursday at Rogers Centre. “It
a community that is in real need of these programs.”
Foundation has put over two-million dollars back into priority
the province through Grand Slam Grants, since its inception. Again this
the Foundation has dispersed additional capital funding to local
charities. By partnering
with these organizations, youth of Toronto and Ontario are directly effected,
them a chance to recognize their goals and aspirations and allows them
develop life skills as they grow.
Over the span of almost one hundred
years, Moorelands Community Services has helped thousands of Toronto children living in
poverty with a
recent concentrated interest in Flemingdon Park (a neighbourhood north of
downtown Toronto) and engages children who
the experience to improve their outlook on life. The Jays Care grants
specifically directed to the City Summer Day Camp which Moorelands
children allowing them to participate with children their age through
summer months. The excitement that radiated from the Moorelands Director
Development, Robert Tomas, personified the optimistic character that
the Moorelands programs. “Oh my gosh, it affects them tremendously,”
when asked if the children would directly benefit from the Jays Care
“What really gets us going and brings a smile to our faces is helping
overcome their own challenges and helping them develop the ability to
beyond their own needs. We think of that as being the most important
can give our students.”
grant recipients, I was taken aback by how few of the organizations I
familiar with. As someone who was born and raised in the city of Toronto, I was reminded of how
often taken for granted in some areas of the city, particularly among
have naturally grown up with various opportunities. One thing that I
away knowing after speaking to three recipients in particular was that
Care is spending it’s efforts to learn, partner with and support
encourage physical activity, education, and life skill development to
may not otherwise have had an opportunity. That principal would seem
a great deal of people, but I realized then, that if it wasn’t for youth
programming around the city, a lot of youth would never break out of
personal environments. Thursday, my outlook on youth programming
changed, and I
quickly grew passionate about spreading the awareness of all of the
programs available to youth in Toronto. Trying to convey all
learned in such a brief space is difficult and though I spoke to only
representatives from the organizations recognized, I cannot articulate
how important it is to become familiar with these programs and