Manitoba's first Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief, 10 months into his new job, outlined a new $500,000 program Friday aimed at getting more at-risk kids throughout the province involved in sports.
Chief, backed by Winnipeg's incoming police chief Devon Clunis and senior RCMP officers, said the program allows community centres and recreational organizations to apply for grants for facility upgrades, balls and pucks and even team uniforms.
The intent of the Sport Opportunities Fund is to get more children involved in organized sport so they don't get involved in crime.
"We have to make sure that young people have something positive to belong to," he said at an event at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre.
"If they don't have something positive to belong to, someone will seek them out to give them something negative to belong to."
The program is the result of a series of community meetings Chief hosted throughout the province, beginning last March.
Lawrence Mulhall, executive director of the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, said an added benefit of the program is it allows community groups to apply for funding to bring in coaches.
"Instead of bouncing basketballs, have somebody come in to work developing skills," he said.
Premier Greg Selinger gave Chief, the rookie MLA from Point Douglas in Winnipeg's North End, the new cabinet post last January.
The portfolio took over government initiatives in other departments aimed at keeping kids in school and steering them into job training and careers.
He said his department is also working on other projects, including one to get more at-risk young people into university and the new After School Matters mentorship program, to be run in partnership with the Winnipeg Jets charitable foundation.
Chief said both are part of his department's five-point plan to keep young people out of crime.
Other aspects of the plan include strengthening early-childhood education, preventing substance abuse and increasing police presence on the street.
He said while the province is dealing with a near $1-billion deficit in its last budget year, a decision was made to make $500,000 available because of feedback from the community meetings.
"We know this is going to help build healthier and safer communities," he said, adding the province hopes groups obtaining grants can leverage funding from other levels of government and the private sector.
How to play
EFFECTIVE immediately, community-based sport and recreation organizations can apply for grants to increase sporting opportunities for at-risk youth:
-- Up to $10,000 for permanent equipment such as volleyball standards, goal frames and athletic field line-painters
-- Up to $2,500 for equipment with a shorter lifespan such as volleyballs, pucks and uniforms
-- Applications for grants under the Sports Opportunites Fund are at www.gov.mb.ca/cyo