Blue Jays big hit with First Nations

WINNIPEG ‑ The Toronto Blue Jays organization is reaching out to First Nations communities in Canada with a program called Rookie League baseball. This week the Blue Jays Care program made its way to the Winnipeg area for a baseball tournament held in Headingley, Alberta, which has brought together 100 children from 15 First Nation communities in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia.

The two-day event focuses on baseball skills and games but also includes a number of other play-based activities.

The young participants completed a seven-week program called Rookie League, offered by the Jays Care Foundation.

“You learn really great life skills on the baseball diamond, resiliency, tenacity, leadership, teamwork, and everyone can learn something from the game of baseball,” said Robert Witchell, executive director of Jays Care Foundation.

Similar programs have visited communities in Ontario’s north with the second annual Beyond the Ballpark tournament hosted by Right To Play, Jays Care Foundation, Kenora Chiefs Advisory and the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

“We are excited and honoured to have been invited to Kenora to celebrate First Nations youth and facilitators who have been playing baseball all summer long,” said Robert Witchel, Executive Director, Jays Care Foundation.  “As Canada’s team, we are privileged to go beyond the ballpark by bringing these communities together to celebrate their achievements. This weekend will encourage youth to demonstrate leadership, to understand the benefits and joy of being physically active, to interact with their peers from surrounding nations and to follow their dreams.”

The program began visiting Kenora in 2015 and has made a big impact.

“Sport is an incredibly powerful tool for reaching youth and engaging them in their education and development, which is why we are so proud to be working with Jays Care Foundation to bring the joy of baseball to children in the PLAY program and other communities,” said Lori Smith, National Director, Right To Play Canada. “Last year the PLAY program reached more than 3,700 Indigenous children and youth in regular programming, and central to its success is community partnership. We are very proud and grateful to have the support, involvement and enthusiasm of the City of Kenora, the Kenora Chiefs Advisory and all participating communities for this event.”

“This initiative provides our youth with an opportunity to build relationships while learning important life skills,” said Joe Barnes, Executive Director, Kenora Chiefs Advisory. “Building resilience and confidence of our youth is a priority for the Kenora Chiefs Advisory. We have already seen positive results from the Kenora Chiefs Advisory Peer Helpers Program, which provides peer support training for youth to build their self-confidence and reach out to those at risk. The Kenora Chiefs Advisory are grateful for this opportunity to work with Right To Play and Jays Care Foundation on this important initiative and look forward to our continuing partnership.”

“Being the hub community for over 10 First Nations communities located in close proximity to Kenora, this is a fantastic opportunity for the youth from these communities to participate in a great event and hosting it right here in Kenora provides an opportunity for the youth to join together in a fun yet educational way,” says Mayor Dave Canfield. “Participation in sport and recreation in our youth today is essential in developing strong and committed leaders and we believe that this event will be a fantastic opportunity for these youth to see that working together builds a winning team.”

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