It’s 7:30 in the morning and the excitement is absolutely bubbling. The kids have their shorts and runners ready, and they’re jumping up-and-down in anticipation. They’re already thrilled to get to ride in the colourful actKIDvity bus, and that’s far from the main event – gymnastics, basketball, soccer and many more of their favourite sports await these keen young athletes.
There’s nothing quite like the first day of summer camp, but the experience is that much more treasured for this particular group, set to enjoy a rare opportunity to take part in top-notch sports programs outside their community through the Ottawa Sportspage’s CAMPS Project.
“Some of our kids who participated last summer had never been to Carleton University before,” highlights Britannia Woods Community House executive director Mohamed Sofa, recounting the experience of Jr. Ravens camp attendees. “The way their eyes lit up when they got there, it was kind of like a young English soccer player seeing Wembley Stadium for the first time. I mean, for a young aspiring basketball player in Ottawa, the chance to play and train on the same floor as the Carleton Ravens, that’s really a special opportunity for them.”
The Carleton Ravens were one of a dozen local sports groups to participate in the 2015 version of the growing CAMPS Project – a new effort to Connect Athletes of All Means to Paths in Sport (as the CAMPS acronym states) by providing free sports opportunities to youth living in Ottawa Community Housing neighbourhoods.
Now operating as a registered not-for-profit organization, the CAMPS Project was spearheaded by the Ottawa Sportspage newspaper, a monthly publication devoted to local amateur sports news, alongside its partner community sports organizations, actKIDvity transportation services and Creekside Communications, creators of the new OttawaSportsCAMPS.ca web site.
The primary objective of the CAMPS Project is simply to expose youth to positive experiences in sport that they otherwise would not be able to access.
Often linguistic, cultural and financial barriers can limit or prevent youth living in social housing from participating in organized sport, while studies indicate other challenges they face include higher exposure to criminal activity, integration to Canadian society, and a lack of positive role models and community leaders.
Sports involvement can play a strong role in combatting those negative influences, helping to build improved resiliency, discipline, confidence and self-esteem, while decreasing feelings of isolation and creating a sense of belonging.
After participants get a taste of new sports settings through summer camps or introductory programs, the CAMPS Project seeks to keep interested participants involved in the sport’s regular programming, in collaboration with local community club partners and charities. A new partnership with the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation’s recLINK program will enable those opportunities and allow youth from OCH neighbourhoods to shoot for the stars.
“Some of the best athletes in the city under 12 live in this neighbourhood (Britannia Woods), but after that age, they start to get surpassed by the kids who have been involved in the top levels of organized sport,” notes Sofa. “What I really like about this program is that it gets our kids into a place where they’re working with the leaders in youth athlete development, which gives them a chance to reach for bigger opportunities, like getting a university scholarship or making a career through sport. It really opens the door to those dreams.”
There are many other positive impacts the CAMPS Project can provide for participating youth, Sofa indicates, such as fostering an interest in becoming part of a new generation of volunteers, coaches and mentors to help future members of their communities enjoy sport, and to provide them with living role models.
And it all starts with that first day of camp.
“I’m exceptionally proud of all the stories we’ve told, but there’s no question the most rewarding moment I’ve experienced through the Ottawa Sportspage was seeing the look on the kids’ faces and their enthusiasm to go to camp on the first day of the program,” says Sportspage editor/founder Dan Plouffe. “If everyone could see that excitement, I have no doubt they’d want to be a part of the CAMPS Project in an instant. It definitely drives us to open up opportunities for more kids to be involved and get to live that experience, and we’re certainly very keen to work with organizations that want to do the same.”