On Monday, July 9, Vancouver Whitecaps FC players and coaches participated in the third annual Hope and Health in Musqueam.
Hope and Health is an all-day experience that utilizes soccer to build resilience and connection amongst Aboriginal children and youth ages 4 to 18. Hope and Health was founded in 2011 by Whitecaps FC head of first team operations and facilities Ed Georgica and his wife Deana Gill-Georgica, along with Bill Yoachim, executive director of Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services. Yoachim is also a former Whitecaps FC Community MVP nominee and league contest winner.
Hope and Health is more about the relationship and connection, more than anything else.
“The kids experience a professional player as a human being, hearing some of their stories and being inspired knowing these players have had paths of their own life,” said Gill-Georgica, whose husband Ed Georgica is the ‘Caps head of first team operations and facilities. “They’ve had to work hard and also overcome their own adversity to achieve their greatness”.
The Aboriginal children and youth participants are a diverse group, representing over 30 First Nation communities across BC and Canada and inclusive of Aboriginal children and youth living in foster care or involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Over 200+ children arrived at Musqueam Park in the morning, eager and excited for the big day. Those without soccer cleats were offered the opportunity to select a brand new or gently used pair to keep. These boots were collected from the recent “Boot It Forward” boot drive campaign, supported by Whitecaps FC.
The morning saw appearances by Whitecaps FC players Russell Teibert, Marcel De Jong, Alphonso Davies and Brek Shea. Other special guests included club ambassador Carl Valentine and Whitecaps FC coaches Carl Robinson and Gordon Forrest. Whitecaps FC COO, Rachel Lewis and president, Bob Lenarduzzi were honoured in a blanketing ceremony, which honoured the partnership and compassion for the Indigenous children and youth. Georgica and Gill-Georgica were also honoured, to their surprise and excitement. Also on hand to entertain the crowd throughout the day was Whitecaps FC mascot Spike, who was a highlight for the kids, and the adults!
Following the traditional opening ceremony, the children separated into groups to participate in skills and drills clinics with the players. Other activities throughout the day included a special Hip Hop workshop and performance by Indigenous Hip Hop duo, Mob Bounce and bracelet making with traditional sinew. Children had a blast jumping around on a large bouncy castle with some of their favourite players, including Teibert.
Teibert views Hope and Health as a way of giving back to the community.
“You talk about reconciliation on a government level and you see all those monetary values and numbers being thrown around,” said the Niagara Falls, Ontario native. “This is not about money. This is about face-to-face contact and conversation and bonding and relationships. That’s what makes this camp very special. You are able to be immersed in a culture and community that really takes you in and makes you feel like one of their own.”
Musqueam chief Wayne Sparrow said “soccer is huge” in the First Nations community and is one way of having a positive impact on young people.
“We keep them active, keep them off the streets and keep them involved,” he said.
In the afternoon, Whitecaps FC players Stefan Marinovic, Brett Levis, Jake Nerwinski and Efrain Juarez all made appearances. After a hot dog barbeque for all of the children, the players showed off their skills in a high-energy game of "soccer tennis."
Not only did the children leave with new soccer gear, but also many memories to cherish. All in all, the Hope and Health Vancouver event was a success with participants winning both on and off the pitch.
Hope and Health will also be held in Nanaimo on Wednesday, August 20 at Merle Logan Field. The event is open to Aboriginal children and youth ages 5-18. Full details at hopeandhealth.org.