The tangible benefits of the relationship between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre are evident every summer.
The $50,000 donation from the football club to WASAC – made recently during a ceremony at Win Gardner Place – has been critical in helping the organization run its free kids summer camp over the last three years.
“This donation, it’s massive,” began WASAC Executive Director Trevor LaForte at a ceremony that featured 23 volunteers, students along with Blue Bomber players Kenny Lawler and Tanner Cadwallader. “As a non-profit we provide programs and all of them are free, like our WASAC Kids Camp in the summer.
“With all costs going up, from transportation to food, any support we get is huge. And this from the Bombers is especially generous because it allows us to keep providing programs for the kids free of charge without inflation putting a dent into the programs we offer. Last year we were looking to have about 1,500 kids attend camp and that number ended up at 1,808.”
Yet, LaForte also detailed how the benefits go much beyond what the funding can provide for the daily activities at the camp and the free transportation. The youth leaders at the camp, many in their first work experience, are more and more a product of the WASAC programs themselves and are becoming involved in helping shape the activities.
“Mostly the camp is about having fun and being a kid,” he said. “What’s interesting now is a lot of what happens every day at the camp is dictated by the youth workers and the expertise they might have. For example, one of the camp counsellors we had last year was a jingle dancer and she wanted to share that experience with other kids, which was fantastic.
“But what we’re also seeing is many of the kids come to the camps and then after that they join our youth achievement programs. That’s the first experience where they’re getting paid. They’re learning different skills from a bunch of different workshops – how to set up a bank account, how to get a license – and then they do a week of interning at the camp. You can call a direct path from the kids coming to their first camp at seven years old to then working with us as a junior and senior leader. A lot of our workers have come up through the program. There so many programs and employers looking for workers, we’re lucky in that we know a lot of these kids who have come up through the program.
“Our biggest strength is developing young, Indigenous leaders and so giving those kids responsibilities at a pace they can manage.”
WASAC was founded in 1999 with two leaders providing programming to 40 Indigenous youth but has since grown to now servicing over 5,000 youth through various programs across the province.
The Blue Bombers, meanwhile, have been a leader in Truth and Reconciliation, including being the first North American franchise to do territorial land acknowledgements in its pre-game ceremonies.
The donation from the football club came through the proceeds from the orange merchandise sales and orange jersey auction from the Blue Bombers’ Orange Shirt Game last September.
“That game is really a celebration of Indigenous culture,” LaForte said. “It’s big to have so many kids come to that game or to see it on TV from a large-scale operation like the Blue Bombers. To see the fans fill up the stadium in orange, there’s a pride in that beyond what the donation is from the Blue Bombers.”