PHAT Soccer, a story of courage, resilience, and hope

Brampton, Ontario, is a destination point for many new Canadians. Unfortunately, with various religious beliefs and cultures in this ethnically diverse community, racial tensions and violence sometimes escalate between youth groups. After a 15-year-old was stabbed to death for his running shoes and pocket money, several women in the area came together with the idea of uniting the community.

Though the adults in the community recognized the need for a united and safe community environment, the youth involved did not initially see the purpose, nor were they motivated to participate. Nicola Harris, the executive director of the community association The Village Keepers, confronted this challenge.

“Many of the youth did not see the importance of building strong team relationships,” Harris says. “It was very difficult getting them to open up and really trust one another.”

Harris and her group found that the best way to overcome these hurdles of resistance and mistrust was through sport.

With the assistance of the True Sport Community Fund, The Village Keepers created the Promoting Healthy Activity Together (PHAT) Soccer Program. In the program, African and Caribbean boys (between the ages of eight and 13) attended a ten-week soccer program that had them playing together for two hours each week.

The changes in the community came quickly.

“Instead of hanging out at the local convenience stores, these boys are taking a ball and practicing their skills with one another at the local park,” says Harris. “They are being active away from their TV, video games, and cellphones.”

The success of the program has created opportunities for youth to view one another differently. They have learned leadership skills and, through play, they have started to appreciate each other despite the differences in ethnicity, culture, religion or country of origin. The youth, through sport, learned to engage with their community and the community, in turn, has engaged with them.

Harris notes the way the community came together to help support the PHAT program participants. Partnerships with the City of Brampton, local churches and Midaynta Community Services have provided the PHAT Soccer Program with guidance, help for newcomers and facility access. The community is becoming “a place to feel safe, have fun and enjoy.”

Connecting with the community also plants the seeds for the program to grow and expand in the future. Harris and her team have planned a fundraising campaign that is now more likely to succeed because it can build on existing success rather than start anew. Other age groups, other sports, and a broader geographic area are all future PHAT program options.

“The program was successful!” exclaims Harris. “It touched the lives of the boys involved. They have been transformed by the game and by the positive relationships they have built as a result of the experience.”

“The game of soccer has given them hope. We have seen the tremendous impact on all the individuals involved: parents, kids, instructors and community stakeholders,” says Harris. “We are humbled by this experience.”