Sport can be a powerful force in kids’ lives, giving them reason to stay on the straight and narrow and helping them build confidence, teamwork and social skills. Perhaps most important, especially for youth in the inner city, it gives them something to do.
Don Woodstock has seen first-hand how sport can engage kids.
“The discipline of sport is what’s most important,” says Woodstock. “A ball in hand keeps kids out of trouble.”
That’s why Woodstock was eager to get involved in the West End Football Futures Clinic, an annual day-long event that gives inner-city boys and girls from ages nine to 17 an opportunity to learn the game, hone skills and connect with professional football players.
Woodstock is familiar with the financial and family challenges faced by kids in the West End neighbourhood where he lives and works. A bus driver, he frequently sees, and chats with, young people who attended the first clinic in 2013.
“When I hear their stories, I go ‘boy, I wish I could find a way to engage their minds,'” says Woodstock. “Not that it would eliminate everything they’re going through, but it would give them some hope.”
While the football clinic includes a message about staying in school and pursuing post-secondary education, offering the information isn’t enough.
“At the clinic, we distributed material from the universities and colleges, but some of them will never be able to afford it,” says Woodstock, who remembers talking to one young person whose parents immediately threw the post-secondary brochures in the garbage.
The need for educational supports for youth in his neighbourhood inspired Woodstock and his colleagues to establish the West End “Football Futures” Scholarship Fund at The Winnipeg Foundation earlier this year.
The Fund will provide financial assistance to students who are motivated to continue their education. Woodstock points out scholarships often have strict criteria that might discourage young people who aren’t at the top of the class or the star player on a team. To qualify for a West End “Football Futures” Scholarship, students will write a paragraph about why they want to continue their education.
The first scholarship will be given out in 2015. In the meantime, Woodstock is working to grow the fund – a job he relishes. He’s planning a fundraiser and asking for donations in-person.
“I love asking people for money for a worthy cause,” he laughs. “Sometimes I go overboard and ask them twice. Everybody loves the idea, the concept, but if I were to get a dollar for everyone who says it’s a great cause, I’d have a million dollars.”
He says the most satisfying experience is often with donors who have the least to give, but show real enthusiasm for helping inner-city youth realize their dreams.
“Sometimes the most important gift you get is from the guy or girl who digs really deep and gives you ten dollars,” he says.