By Melissa Novacaska
As the school year comes to an end, so does a unique initiative put forth by the Ottawa Sport Council and a number of key community partners.
The Rideau-Vanier Multisport Project set out to help kids in low-income communities continue physical activities after school hours by providing organized sport activities and help the students, including those how recently moved to Canada, become more physically active.
The Ottawa Sport Council collaborated with the local city councillor for the ward, Mathieu Fleury, the Ottawa Internationals Soccer Club and the Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association, Ottawa Community Housing, Le Patro d’Ottawa and more to help bring this initiative to roughly 80 students from grades 4 to 6 at three schools in the area. These included École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Anne, École élémentaire publique Mauril-Bélanger and Assumption Catholic School.
Along with these partners, the Ontario Trillium Foundation provided a grant for the initiative, which helped make the idea come to life.
Wrapping up the pilot project, Marci Morris, executive director of the Ottawa Sport Council, looked back on how it all played out.
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“It went really, really well. We learned a whole heck of a lot about it,” Morris told the Ottawa Sportspage at one of the initiative’s recent events.
According to Morris, the main goal of the initiative was initially to get kids more active and then measure how the kids’ fitness had improved from the pilot’s start to its finish. However, that changed as the initiative went along.
“What we learned through the initiative was if children don’t have a safe space to play, if they don’t have organized sport and they live in an [underserved] environment, then their chances of being active outside of school are not very high because in many cases there isn’t a local park that they can go to, playing in their neighbourhood may not be the safest of things,” Morris said.
“Where we thought what we were doing was we were adding to their physical activity, in some cases, we were really creating opportunities for physical activity because they were in a safe environment and under a structured program.”
According to Morris, rather than measure how active the kids were, they were able to measure how satisfied the kids were with the program.
“Interestingly we’ve asked them all what would stop you from doing this again and they said the only thing that would stop them would be the lack of a program. So (while) our goal was to make them more active, what I think we achieved was building up a demand for a program,” Morris said.
According to Morris, the results from the pilot were positive for the most part. Morris said some children experienced positive behavioural changes, while others learned what it was like to be part of a team for the first time.
Fleury added to this, saying that another positive of the initiative was that it “maximized” to use of some of the city’s public infrastructure.
He said he thought the initiative was an important one for the city to participate in.
“We want our youth to have opportunities. No matter their family income levels. Sports can be expensive and that’s a barrier to access at the same time, it’s part of their mental health, it’s part of their physical health, it’s part of learning to play and work as a team so it contributes to a successful class setting and a successful learning experience for kids,” Fleury said.
Morris also pointed out that she doesn’t think a lot of people know that the Rideau-Vanier Ward doesn’t have any community sport organizations in the neighbourhood, therefore the pilot was put in place as a way to help address that situation.
With the pilot finishing at the end of June, Morris said the program’s next steps will be evaluating its success, and using the evidence of the benefits of the program, applying for another grant in the fall. This time though, Morris said the program would be aimed at running for a three-year timeframe and perhaps at some point expand to other schools in need as well.
It just becomes a win-win for everybody,” Morris said.
Fleury shared similar sentiments about an expanding in the city.
“[This initiative] was piloted in Rideau-Vanier and I want it to stay and flourish [there], but it’s not unique to Rideau-Vanier, we’d love to see this expanded across the city,” Fleury said.