"Something about Strathcona resonated with me. You can see it’s a community that has deep history and a diverse community as well.”
Those were the words that inspired Vancouver Whitecaps FC striker Tosaint Ricketts to help Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Strathcona.
As part of his practicum to complete his bachelor’s degree from the Southern New Hampshire University, Ricketts was researching local neighbourhoods that Whitecaps FC could support as part of the club’s MLS WORKS Greener Goals outreach.
MLS WORKS Greener Goals is a league-wide pillar that raises awareness about environmental issues and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint throughout the soccer community. As an MLS club, the ‘Caps are committed to encouraging players, staff, partners and fans to create a cleaner and healthier environment.
Ricketts reached out to Strathcona Residents Association president Dan Jackson and from there, the connection between Whitecaps FC and the oldest residential neighbourhood in the city was born.
“Tosaint sent me an email out of the blue,” recalls Jackson. “He reached out in a very open way to say ‘I like what you’re doing, what can I do to help?’”
The Strathcona Residents Association (SRA), a non-profit and volunteer-run society, has been promoting the health, safety and well-being of residents living in the area while also connecting the community together.
“The SRA is really about trying to figure out ways that we can all get to know each other better,” said Jackson. “It’s something we’re always finding new ways to do, which is why I was excited when Whitecaps FC reached out.”
Jackson, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 10 years, is committed to further growing the connection amongst Strathcona residents for the foreseeable future.
The SRA’s lead park associate Maureen Teahan is also a local resident and describes the connection between the neighbourhood and its people as one unlike any other.
“I sit and look out my window when I’m home and I can see the life in the neighbourhood,” said Teahan. “You see the same dogs, the same dogwalkers every day, the same families taking their kids to school every morning. It’s just the strength of the community.”
Through Ricketts’ outreach to the SRA, Jackson and Teahan connected the club to the Strathcona Community Policing Centre (CPC), a non-profit society run by a community-based board that works with residents to support crime prevention, safety programs and local events.
Dan Turvill, executive director of the Strathcona CPC, is also committed to do as much as he can to support the neighbourhood’s environmental sustainability.
“It just has so much character [that] there’s no neighbourhood like it,” said Turvill. “It’s a combination of the history and the diversity. It’s totally unique for the city of Vancouver.”
“Having our community of people that live here or care about the area, that are actively going out everyday to clean up graffiti, garbage … it just shows how much people do care about this neighbourhood.”
Ever since the Strathcona CPC’s inception in 2018, the organization has cleaned up 1,114 garbage bags, 1,182 used syringes and 13,000 cigarette butts off the ground.
The neighbourhood also has a volunteer-run community garden that spans 3.34 acres of city land.
Whitecaps FC planned to participate in a neighbourhood clean-up event with Strathcona residents this Earth Day, but due to current COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, those plans were paused.
However, the club’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community department look forward to supporting the Strathcona’s future clean-ups and additional activities as soon as they resume.
Ricketts, who is with the team in Salt Lake City to start the 2021 season, is excited to return to Vancouver and explore more ways that the club can support Strathcona.
“When you have the platform, the resources and the outreach, you want to create true positive change,” said Ricketts.
“Speaking to the SRA and Strathcona CPC, you know they’re working hard to fix the community. And if there are ways that the ‘Caps can get in there, bring awareness, encourage residents, and lend our resources, it’ll be positive.”