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Non-profit helps ignite children’s involvement in sport

Community ProfileNon-profit helps ignite children’s involvement in sport

Since its launch in 2023, Free Sport For Growth has given the chance for many children to play sports and participate in activities by holding multiple equipment giveaway events in Brantford.

Free Sport For Growth has striven to remove financial barriers, through these giveaways, ensuring inclusivity. As Ross Enslev, one of its founders further explains, the genesis of the initiative came from his own experiences.

“Free Sport For Growth was an idea that came about after I wrote my first book, ‘Our Neighborhoods and My Journey.’ It got me thinking about all the opportunities my generation had growing up, and the fact that we could go to the park, and everybody would get a chance to play. And now, it’s become very elitist. The cost to have your child in sports like hockey, whether it’s travel or just in a house league [is expensive],” Enslev explained. “I thought, it might be a good idea if I got together [with] a couple of likeminded people [to] see if we could [create an initiative to] put some sporting equipment into the hands of kids that are a little less fortunate [and helping] them a get a good start.”

From left to right: Ross Enslev, Lori Dawn Cavan, Rick Mannen, and Josie Mannen. Photo courtesy Free Sport for Growth.

Enslev, along with Dave Levac, and Josie and Rick Mannen, helped found Free Sport For Growth, which has grown to close to 15 core volunteer members and boasts countless other volunteers across the community.

However, as Rick Mannen noted, the reaction from the community has been positive.

“It’s been terrific. We’ve had several free equipment giveaways for kids. So far, there has been one last fall, one in January and one this past May fourth. We’ve had hundreds of kids show up with their parents [and in] some cases with their grandparents…[and] just to see the look on the kids’ faces when we’re giving them this free equipment; it’s special,” said Mannen. “One of our major goals is to equip kids with sports equipment [while] helping them access sporting events and more organized sports and try to get them back into our community park system.”

Ross Enslev has written two books ‘Our Neighbours – My Journey’ and ‘Community of Excellence Brantford’, which documents Brantford’s rich sports past and its communities. Each sale of these books contributes directly to supporting local youth sports and development initiatives like Free Sport For Growth. Photo courtesy Free Sport for Growth.

Nevertheless, the community has been keen on helping the non-for-profit, by donating their equipment and their time.  

“Some of the stuff we [have gotten] has been purchased and some of it has been donated…I have a person who goes to a lot of yard sales and warehouses, pick[ing] up some things for us [and getting] donations from friends,” Enslev explained. “Word of mouth has helped us…after our hockey giveaways, we started to get calls from organizations, asking us how they can be a part of what we are doing. If this continues to grow and we anticipate it’s going to, we might reach out and [share our initiative] to other communities [and] maybe encourage them to do the same thing.”

On May 4th, 2024, Free Sport For Growth held its third Giveaway at the cricket building at Arnold Anderson Complex in Brantford, Ontario. Many children were given an opportunity to start their sports journey with equipment donated by companies as well as individuals from the community. Photo courtesy Free Sport for Growth.

A mix of a strong volunteer base and community donations, as well as Enslev’s own book fundraising initiative, has maintained Free Sport For Growth success.

“People in our age group that grew up with all the opportunities [in playing sports], like what we are doing, [and] they have helped us. Like for our last event, we had 12 pickup trucks and about 20 people help us move the equipment,” Enslev said. “The money [raised from the sales of] my books along with the donations we’ve had, has given us the ability to buy baseball [gear], soccer balls, hockey helmets, and hockey sticks. We had some hockey sticks [and] some other equipment donated. It’s been really good.”

Across multiple Giveaway events, Free Sport For Growth continues to champion sports for children. Free Sport For Growth helps break down financial barriers, making health, fitness and participation in sports accessible to all. Photo courtesy Free Sport for Growth.

Mannen went on to describe the importance of what the organization is trying to do.

“We have two main goals; one is empowering kids through active play in our local parks. And the second one is [that] we want to foster physical and mental wellbeing [as well as] a sense of community,” Mannen continued. “When I was growing up in Brantford, the park was where everything happened…and there were always activities lined up, we always had a lot of neighborhood kids coming out. And sometimes in the summertime we would get to the park at eight o’clock in the morning and not come home until supper. We were busy all day long, having fun with other kids and playing sports. And that’s the sense of community we want to try to bring back; helping kids discover their potential and develop a love for health and fitness.”

Many children have benefitted from the equipment, including hockey gear and jerseys, donated by companies, families, and individuals throughout the community (to the left and right.) Rick Mannen prepares for a giveaway event (middle.) Photo courtesy Free Sport for Growth.

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