The Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation has worked in partnership with the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre (WASAC) to run the True North Hockey Academy, previously known as the Lil’ Moose Hockey Program, for the past six years.
The True North Hockey Academy is a program that provides underprivileged children with the chance to participate in an organized hockey program, who otherwise might not have the opportunity.
"It allows them to feel connected to the school, like people are wanting to do things to help them out," explained Dwayne Green, Executive Director of the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation. "They are taught team building skills and how to be part of a group, which will ultimately make them better citizens."
Many of these kids struggle with attendance, resulting in poor grades which can lead to drop outs. This program helps act as motivation to stay in school and on the right track to graduation.
“It gets some of them to school,” said Henrietta Hoch, Principal of the Buchanan School. “If they have attendance issues, they don’t miss on Tuesday’s. Part of the program is that you need to have regular attendance and be on time for school. It’s important enough to them that they’ll get up on their own and do what they need to do to be here.”
The Foundation and WASAC have teamed up to provide the equipment, staffing, ice rental, transportation and nutritional lunches to all participants of the program. Volunteers from E.H. Price and the St. James-Assiniboia Hockey Academy rotate weekly to provide six schools and over 150 children with the chance to take part in the program.
Ten-year-old sports enthusiast, Dylan Burton, has a disability that restricts him to a wheelchair. The program has enabled him to join his friends on the ice to play hockey in a special sled with customized equipment.
“He’s always wanted to play hockey,” explained his mother, Jackie Cairns. “When the program first started, I didn’t think he’d be able to be a part of it because he’s in a sled, especially with the cost of a sled and the equipment. The True North Foundation totally stepped up and bought him a sled, which arrived within a couple weeks. I don’t think that I’d be able to get him out there on the ice, at least not with his own sled.”
Cairns has two children involved in the program. Dylan’s older brother Landon, 16, participates as a volunteer instructor for the academy, which allows ‘hockey-mom’ Jackie, to see both of her boys on the ice together at the same time.
“Foundations that put programs like this together for these kids are excellent,” said Cairns. “I see hockey as something that brings people together. It’s great for kids to be able to be a part of a team and not out there on the streets, even at this young age.”
The True North Hockey Academy uses hockey as a positive building block to form a successful future for these kids, in hopes that they will gain confidence and direction for the road ahead.
“Eventually, we'd like to evolve this program into creating leadership and mentorship opportunities,” Green added. “Maybe these students will come back and help volunteer within the program for the elementary school kids and give back to the community.”
For more information about the True North Hockey Academy and the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation, please visit www.winnipegjets.com/foundation.
Author: Kristi Hennessy