By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
For the last decade, Their Opportunity has been helping low-income children to feel more included, and participate in the sports they love.
According to their mission statement, the Oshawa-based organization has set out to eliminate financial barriers many children face so they can develop essential life skills and a healthy lifestyle.
Since it began 10 years ago, Their Opportunity has assisted more than 13,000 children receive opportunities, and has also affected thousands more through its Give Back Program.
According to their website, this equates to 170,000 recreation hours, and 46,000 hours of community service or engagement.
Children who receive sponsorship from Their Opportunity are required to participate in the Give Back Program.
Some stories from the Give Back Program include one of a young man who was caught stealing from a local department store by Durham police.
The boy comes from a single-parent household, and his father was unable to enrol him in sports of any kind.
He was brought to Their Opportunity, who helped him to join a local hockey club, and since then, he has been paying it forward by organizing a graffiti removal day.
He got his teacher involved, who then got the principal involved, and the whole school followed suit.
Students were given the opportunity to participate in a buy out, and the money collected went to a diversity program for the school.
Randy Gill, president and CEO of Their Opportunity, is proud of the work his company has done.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way the charitable sector works or operates, but most charities will be solving x problem by giving x, and that’s where it stops,” Gill explains. “For us, we’re solving a multitude of issues or scenarios – we’re tackling poverty, health and wellness, mental health, inclusion, and we’re doing all kinds of different work throughout the country now, in different marginalized and priority neighbourhoods.”
Gill further adds Their Opportunity doesn’t stop by just getting these children active, they say, “Now, become champions or ambassadors in your community by giving back [with the Give Back Program].”
He believes the pay-it-forward aspect of what they do really separates them from the pack.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve done,” he says.
However, the number Gill is really proud of is the almost 50,000 hours of community service performed by the children who have received funding from Their Opportunity.
“We’re talking kids five to 18 that are from under-serviced, marginalized situations,” he explains.
According to Gill, one-third of Canadian children will never get to participate in organized sports.
“So, we have millions of children across the country that need our help still, and that’s what motivates us, and gives us fuel – that there’s still kids that we are going to turn into champions,” says Gill. “We’re going to get them off the sidelines and into the game, and becoming champions in their community.”
They do provide subsidies and are removing financial barriers, but they do much more according to Gill.
“The power of play is such an important thing for our community as a whole,” says Gill. “If you all of a sudden took the ability away from kids to play and create, and be a part of something bigger than themselves, it really would damage the fabric of our society, and we believe that we’re giving kids an opportunity and reaching them before they may need to be rescued.”
Gill explains the organization has more than 200 volunteers across the country, and is operating in 52 Canadian communities.
“What started as a movement here in the Durham Region, spouted out in Calgary and Ottawa, and is now reaching across the country one community, and one family at a time.”
Gill hasn’t lived in Durham his whole life, but he’s proud to call it his home now.
“I’ve been a Durham Region resident for about 20 years myself, and I’ve obviously lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my entire life, so it’s home for me,” he says.
Since Their Opportunity began a decade ago, Gill says the organization has changed in a number of ways.
“One is that we are now operating in more advocacy roles for families and communities at large,” he says. “We also now spend time on families’ behalf negotiating with leagues and clubs when we might not have been able to do that 10 years ago – now we’re a trusted brand.”
He adds they have become more of a partner for families and communities in the overall solution for gaining access, and making recreation a real possibility.
“It’s really changed that way, and I guess by way of new discoveries and new systems things have changed for us, we’re always refining,” he says. “I believe any good company, especially a charitable organization, always needs to be evolving, and so we remain flexible and pliable, and driven to be the best.”
Gill says what started as an action and vision of passion to create, has become a movement of generosity which people are attaching to.
He explains there are several highlights for the organization, such as breaking 100,000 recreational hours, or when they exceeded 30 communities, but when it comes down to it, the biggest highlights are the small wins with children and with families.
“Breakthroughs where all of a sudden kids got the chance to participate in a sport and recreation that they love and build some incredible skills in their life, but they [also] started a movement of generosity of their own, such as graffiti removal projects, seniors homes and soup kitchens, those are massive highlights that this community, these volunteers, staff and the board of directors have created, and it’s been amazing,” says Gill.
A decade from now, Gill hopes Their Opportunity will be serving 50,000 children, creating hundreds of thousands of recreational hours, and have made their way to another 50 communities across the country.
“But what we really believe is we are creating a legacy that will last beyond our founding fathers and founding partners and will last for a lifetime, and will leave a legacy of access and champions,” says Gill.
BEHIND THE WRITING
The importance of sport
By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Throughout my 27 years on this Earth, I have always firmly believed sports can have a positive impact on a young person’s life.
I know this first hand, as some of my best memories from my childhood are on the baseball diamond sitting at the plate smack-talking, or the hot corner catching a line-drive and turning it into a double play.
I also remember going out for wings and beers (only when I was 19, before that it was frosty chocolate milkshakes) to celebrate a win, or to mourn a loss.
My oldest friend is one I made on the diamond, and while we now live in different cities today, we always make sure to remember each others’ birthdays and to check in every few months.
The impact of being on a team is ineffable, as I struggle to describe the impact it had on me.
Speaking to Randy Gill about Their Opportunity has made me more aware of the struggles some families might face in receiving the same opportunities my brother and I did from our parents when it comes to sports.
Baseball in itself is expensive, as you need a glove, cleats, balls, bats, helmets, and many leagues today ask families to provide this gear for their kids themselves. When I played, I could bring my own stuff, but quite often the team had it already.
Also, we can’t forget Canada’s biggest sport, hockey, is extremely expensive. You need sticks, shin pads, elbow pads, chest protectors, helmets, and skates – the cheapest of which are still around $100.
After learning about Their Opportunity, I’ve come to further respect the privilege I had growing up, as I never needed to worry about if I’d be able to afford playing baseball.
I encourage those who are interested, and those who are in need, to reach out to Their Opportunity to volunteer, or to get help at theiropportunity.com