At-risk kids will soon have better recreational facilities thanks to a new $500,000 provincial fund that will aim to steer them away from gangs and crime.
The Sport Opportunities Fund, announced last week by Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief, will provide grants to sports and recreation organizations in order to help them offer better programming.
Organizations can receive up to $10,000 for capital projects, like new goalposts, and up to $2,500 for sports equipment like balls, hockey sticks and uniforms.
Chief said the fund — which is part of a larger five-point provincial strategy to keep kids out of crime — was created following extensive consultation with residents in some of the city’s more impoverished neighbourhoods.
"We listened to what people had to say," Chief said. "They wanted healthier, safer and stronger communities. We had over 200 people at Sinclair Park Community Centre for one consultation. It was a diverse crowd… lots of different ages and ethnicities."
Lawrence Mulhall, executive director of the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, said his facility would be applying for a grant. The centre recently completed a $500,000 development that includes a new gymnasium, but there are a few details still missing.
"We had no money to put holes in the floors for badminton nets," Mulhall said. "It’s like looking at a brand new car, but you can’t afford the gas or insurance."
The centre will also be looking for funding for equipment to put lines on its outdoor rink and soccer field.
Mulhall said crime has decreased noticeably around the Young Street centre since the development was completed.
"The sale of drugs has gone down a pretty high percentage," he said. "Attendance in the park and gym has gone up by 110 or 120% When people know each other, it inevitably reduces crime."
Along with area residents, Chief said he was pleased to see members of the Winnipeg Police Service taking part in the consultations. That involvement will continue as the strategy is implemented.
Incoming police chief Devon Clunis was at the fund’s announcement, and officers will be regular visitors to the recreational facilities.
"One of the biggest things we want is to draw young people to the police," Chief said. "We want them to see the police officers as individuals and not just as uniforms."
By getting the kids involved in sports and recreation, Chief is hoping to reduce the risk of kids joining gangs.
"We want to help them develop their gifts and talents," said the former University of Winnipeg basketball player. "It allows everyone to get a sense of contributing to the neighbourhood. I grew up poor, but every time I shot a basketball I had the pride of having my school’s name stamped on my chest."