Spence is a neighborhood where everybody gets to play

The Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) is a community-based organization in Winnipeg that advocates for inner-city kids. With the assistance of True Sport, the SNA has transformed its operations from two basketball teams in 2008 – to nine basketball teams and six soccer teams in 2010. Over 500 newcomer and inner-city youth have participated in the program during that three-year span.

Chino Argueta, sports coordinator at the SNA, speaks about the challenges of creating and sustaining a grassroots community program. “The path is not easy,” he says. “When we first started with basketball, it took many meetings for our club to even be recognized as part of the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association.”

Argueta explains that even beyond registration and transportation (which require initial funding that is not easy to obtain for inner city youth) there is a long inventory of needs that must be met for a startup program like this to succeed.

“We were required to provide each athlete with uniforms, shoes, socks, water bottles, basketballs, snacks and a place to practice,” Argueta says. “The more participants you add, the more you are required to provide.”

These financial and resource challenges can easily sink even the most well-meaning grassroots startup program. Without support for the program, the program cannot serve the participants, and the entire community suffers as a result.

Though the True Sport Community Fund typically provides assistance in the form of grants and resources, the Spence Neighbourhood Association found that the distinction of the True Sport brand and logo provided incalculable value. “True Sport support gave this program credibility in front of our provincial sporting organization as well as other funders,” Argueta says happily. “That credibility led to the solidification of partnerships with community partners, sporting organizations, the city of Winnipeg, educational institutions and local business owners.”

Now armed with community partners, financial assistance and a staff of engaged and eager volunteers, the SNA began to make a difference in the community.

Argueta explains that all of the 500 youth who have participated in the program have changed in one way or another. Participants are staying in school (with a 90% graduation rate), they participate in extra-curricular activities and they become role models and leaders in the community. Dedication to these commitments prevents the youths from being involved with gangs, alcohol and drugs.

One youth, Junior Sesay, moved to Manitoba from Sierra Leone when he was 10-years-old. He joined the SNA and learned how to play basketball. With a lot of hard work and dedication, he contributed to two city championships and won a provincial championship with his high school. Junior Sesay is now ranked 23rd in Canada for his age group, but more importantly, he still comes to the Spence practice facility to demonstrate his talents and show his leadership skills as a role model for the younger players.

Newly-learned True Sport values are evident in both community leadership and in sport participation. Argueta tells us as a story about a Spence team playing a five-on-five basketball game when an opposing player had to leave the game. The Spence team, instead of playing five-on-four, decided to rotate their players so that the game was always four-on-four and equal for both sides. Argueta remembers the message of sportsmanship that was sent during that game, particularly because at no time, even when Spence began to lose the game, did any of his players complain. Illustrating a True Sport principle, the Spence team knew that winning is only real when the competition is fair.

Graduates of the program remain involved as officials, mentors and coaches. Argueta enjoys watching the older players demonstrate “moves” to the younger players while praising their development and success. “They are leaders,” Argueta says. “They understand that they can be a positive influence for generations to come.”

Argueta’s passion for the program is evident in every word he speaks. “The thought that this program is their only opportunity to access sport is what gives me the energy and strength to continue to advocate daily for them,” he says. “Our kids have shown their community that with the right support, they can overcome any obstacle in their lives.”