CALGARY - There are thousands of young people in hundreds of communities across Canada that are unable to access sport in their community due to the financial, social, and geographical barriers they face each day – and every single one of them deserves the opportunity to proudly say, “I am a hockey player”.
That’s why HEROS has joined together with the First Nations Health Consortium of Alberta and Hockey Alberta, with the support of Hockey Alberta Foundation, to deliver NHL Street programming to First Nations communities this season.
This pilot project is designed to get young people moving, working together, and building important life skills such as teamwork, creativity, and resilience through street hockey.
Combining NHL Street’s model of modular boards and limited equipment with inclusive, hockey-based mentorship programming ensures that young people in remote communities can play hockey with their friends and mentors regardless of the barriers they face in their day-to-day lives.
“The really cool thing about this project is that it’ll be kind of like LEGO. The instructions will be there, but each community gets to build their own program based off what works for them,” said Waylon Auger, Pilot Project Coordinator with First Nations Health Consortium.
HEROS has been committed to removing the barriers that make the game of hockey hard to access. By providing the equipment, facilities, transportation, proper nutrition, and mentorship, HEROS has ensured 18,000 young people have been able to play, learn, and grow through hockey since the first HEROS program launched in 2000.
It’s well documented that access to sport is crucial to the mental and physical development of young people. Unfortunately, many families and communities lack the resources needed for their young people to participate in sport, especially hockey, where players need specialized equipment and facilities.
“Every kid wants to be part of something, it doesn’t matter where they live. Now they get to be part of a team,” said Auger.
Historically, HEROS programs have been run in large city centres like Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Toronto. Cities like these have many communities that need programming like HEROS, and their density and proximity to arenas help ensure resources can be used as effectively as possible. While this makes the most out of the limited resources that are generously provided by partners, donors, and volunteers in each community, it also limits the number of communities that HEROS can reach.
The Pilot Project will address that challenge, providing remote Indigenous communities access to free hockey programming that focuses on the long-term investment of players, while allowing them to experience the joy of playing hockey. Programming will provide players a safe, welcoming space that promotes the importance of community building, self-confidence, and inclusion.
And just like each HEROS program across the country, teams of dedicated mentors from each community, including older students, teachers, and neighbours, will be on hand to ensure players are able to build positive relationships and learn valuable lessons from those with shared life experiences.
“Now these players are HEROS, so if they end up moving to Calgary, Edmonton, or any another HEROS community, they’ll always have a place to go, where a familiar jersey and a smiling face will be there waiting for them,” said Kevin Hodgson, HEROS Executive Director.
While there is still lots of work to be done in the coming months, longtime partner of HEROS, Hockey Alberta, through the Hockey Alberta Foundation, has generously committed additional support throughout the 2023-2024 season to support the first year of the project.
Darcy Smith, Manager of Hockey Alberta Foundation, is thrilled their team is playing such an integral role in this project.
“The Hockey Alberta Foundation’s vision is to inspire every kid and every community’s passion for hockey,” said Smith. “Partnering with HEROS Hockey, the First Nations Health Consortium and Hockey Alberta to deliver programs throughout Alberta’s Indigenous communities supports mental and physical health and encourages community participation for the love of the game.”
The support from Hockey Alberta and the Hockey Alberta Foundation will provide HEROS and the First Nations Health Consortium with the crucial resources needed to bring hockey programming to 10 First Nations communities over the first year of programming.
You can support this new initiative by making a donation, or by visiting the First Nations Health Consortium website to learn more about this new initiative.