Youth team gains sport skills — and a benefactor

A group of 14 to 16 year olds, who were struggling in the regular school system, are benefiting from the Foundation Alternative Program that balances adapted academic courses with skill-building social and recreational activities. Last year, Aniz Jiwani, a youth and family worker in the program, was on the look-out for a new team activity suitable for the school’s at-risk youth. The school had started a bowling team years before that was a huge success. Aniz asked, “How can we do more?”

He began to look at dragon boat racing.

“We create things for them to be successful at to build self-esteem, leadership and resiliency that carries over to other areas,” he explains. Together with teachers Chris Hodges and Sophia Kotsovos, he adds that “We asked, ‘how can we work as a team’ for students who are not stereotypical athletes.”

Aniz approached Dragon Boat BC’s GM Ann Phelps to help in what he saw as five barriers: the students would have to learn how to do it, weather, clothing, cost, and possible disinterest. Ann’s reply was, “Leave it to me.”

Dragon Boat BC brought in coaches and facilitated four on-the-water training sessions out of the False Creek boathouse last May and June. The sessions were a huge hit.

Aniz recalls, “All the kids are new to the sport. The coaches are awesome and the participants loved it. This is the kind of fun, new experience we wanted for them. It’s scary, so they can overcome fear and have skills to use. Everyone took part, including staff.”

Generous donor funds fresh set of practice sessions

This year, the Foundation Alternative Program’s staff team identified several Fridays until June where the school’s students could participate. They started thinking about timing and building a goal, but more funding was needed.

Enter Realtor Mark Raymond of The Raymond Group. He heard about the team through a presentation Ann made at a Concord Pacific corporate event, and immediately offered to sponsor a new group of students this year.

The Foundation staff and the Vancouver School Board are thankful for the generosity. “Mark’s $1,500 donation goes toward paying for lessons and outfits. Now we’ll have a class set of clothing, if it rains, not a problem.” The team’s 10 sessions to June with coaching are now fully funded. The new Foundation team uniforms arrived recently and Aniz says, “They’re awesome!”

For Mark, the gift was heartfelt: “My siblings and I had an idyllic upbringing. So when I see these young teens clearly struggling with issues, it bothers me. I can’t help but relate it to how different their situation is from what mine was.”

He wants the students to enjoy positive experiences. “These kids haven’t had the opportunity to get out and take part in genuine fun and clear their heads.” His own background in sailing is part of what attracts him to dragon boating.

Aniz confirms that the program is already having the desired effect, allowing the students to work together as a team and experience a sense of belonging. He adds, “Dragon boating will now be part of the repertoire of our school program involving 10 sessions a year from September to June.”

Mark looks forward to dropping by to watch the team practice.  “I hope they have a great time and are excited to look at their calendars and be back out again. It’s an opportunity to have some fun and get into a healthy team-like atmosphere. If it resonates with them at some level, it’s a huge success.”

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