By Dan Plouffe
When Manock Lual founded Prezdential Basketball to teach youth from low-income communities sport and life skills, he never imagined he’d find himself hanging out at Loch March Golf & Country Club on an overcast afternoon in the fall.
“Not at all,” smiled the 34-year-old whose family came to Canada as refugees from South Sudan. “Especially with this weather – I am not a cool weather kind of guy.”
Lual served as the emcee for the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation’s annual fundraising golf tournament on Sept. 28. The north-Kanata setting was of course a fairly big contrast to his usual office, working with youth facing complex barriers in their lives, stemming from poverty and other challenges.
“If you take a trip from west of Ottawa, to south, to east, to Orleans, to Kanata, you’re going to get a different style of people,” Lual highlighted in the trailer for Season 2 of The Overbrook Show – produced as an extension of his Prezdential Youth Media program, which creates opportunities for youth to learn about content creation, journalism and videography.
But the golf event provided an opportunity for the participants to help support the OCH Foundation’s programs to help children and youth overcome hurdles, and contribute to communities that are far away from the country club. Sold out with a full fleet of 144 golfers and a pile of sponsors, the ninth annual event raised a record $96,204.
“It was such a great day here with a lot of great people, and events like this are really needed,” signalled Lual, noting the great impact provided by a program like the OCH Foundation’s Hop On Bikes initiative, which provides free refurbished bikes to kids in OCH communities.
“That’s huge. Especially these young kids that are coming here, like first-generation immigrants – having a bike is freedom, right?” he explained. “When I grew up in Overbrook, I never really had freedom until I got my first bike. I could go to the park, go see the water, explore all over the city. A bike for a young man is like a car for an old man.”
Among the OCH Foundation’s other initiatives are Pack-a-Sack (which provides school supplies and backpacks), Youth Futures (a program to prepare youth for post-secondary education and employment), the Inspired by Learning Bursary (which provides $1,000 to OCH tenants attending post-secondary schools), and recLINK (which connects children and youth to arts, camps and sports programs). (Editor’s Note: The Ottawa Sports Pages partners with recLINK through our CAMPS Project).
“To all of our sponsors and golfers, we wouldn’t be here without you,” OCH Foundation executive director Angela Bégin said in her remarks to the participants. “You are part of the work that we do. Each student who receives a bursary, each youth who is matched with a bike, each child who attends swimming lessons – these are all results of your generosity and kindness. Thank you.”
Prezdential Basketball growing and growing
Lual was a natural choice for the Foundation to emcee its flagship fundraiser – he’s pretty well the exact type of success story they’d like to replicate.
Growing up in a struggling community with limited means, Lual put a great deal of time and energy into developing his basketball game. The 6’6″ forward earned a full scholarship to the University of Prince Edward Island, where he studied sociology and business.
Lual went on to play professionally in England and for the short-lived Ottawa Skyhawks franchise, and also played with the South Sudan national team before retiring from basketball.
He then set out to create Prezdential and help others in the neighbourhood where he grew up rise above the challenges he knows very well himself. Lual has partnered with piles of like-minded organizations such as the OCH Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Jumpstart, and many more groups devoted to equity-deserving populations.
Prezdential has recently expanded beyond its central-east roots and is bringing programs farther west and south, including sites at Pinecrest Public School and Ridgemont and Hillcrest High Schools.
“We’re scaling – more programs, more impact, and different programs,” Lual highlighted. “We branched away from just basketball. Now it’s life skills – like cooking, media and financial literacy. It’s a whole combination of things. Right now, it’s a very beautiful time for us.”
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