Building community through rugby, and rugby through communities.
That’s the mandate the Toronto Inner-City Rugby Foundation (TIRF) brought with it this summer to Etobicoke’s Dixon Park – just one of about 10 under-served locations across Toronto where the rugby-centred community development organization ran drop-in programs for inner city youth, said Paul Myers, TIRF’s rugby development coordinator.
“One of the things that’s major for us is we like to use rugby as a community-building tool,” Myers said, noting the sport’s ability to build character in its young players by imparting rugby’s core values of integrity, solidarity, passion, respect, and discipline.
“The idea is that we’re not just getting kids to play rugby, but getting kids to be better persons overall – better citizens of Toronto, of Ontario, and of Canada.”
At Dixon Park, TIRF teamed up with officers from 23 Division’s Somali Liaison Unit to help run the Friday evening program all summer long, which Myers – himself a retired Toronto police sergeant who once worked out of the north Etobicoke division – said goes a long way towards building bridges in the community.
“We trained the officers beforehand so they could participate with the kids and have fun. What having them there does is, it helps the community see the police in a little different light,” he said.
“And over time, it helps to break down those barriers and helps the community come to see (the officers) more as people than what they see on TV.”
The Dixon Park program, which kicked off in July and wrapped up last Friday, drew close to 40 kids aged seven to 14 from the Dixon and Islington communities – an impressive turnout Myers said TIRF hopes to build on next summer, when they plan to expand to offer a full-fledged, four-team house league program.
“We hope the kids were able to take away some skills they can use – fundamental movement and physical literacy skills – and that they’re able to develop those further for next year,” Myers said.
“But we also hope that this program has opened their eyes to different opportunities and showed them that there’s more than just being in their apartment. We tried to encourage them to get outside and use the space that’s around them.”
The TIRF program – which was run thanks to support from the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, Rexdale Hub, and Playing for Keeps – wrapped up last Friday with a special pizza party and participation medal presentation that turned into a mini community celebration.
“The neat thing at Dixon is, it wasn’t just the kids who came out every Friday evening – it was their families, too,” Myers said.
“While the kids participated in our rugby program, their younger siblings would use the playground and their families would sit around and have something to eat. So, it really became more of a community social thing, which was great to see.”
For more information about TIRF and its programming, go to www.tirfrugby.ca