A strong community relations program has long been the calling card of the BC Lions Football Club. From school programs and player appearances to charitable donations and grassroots support of amateur football, no professional sports team in British Columbia does more to better the communities in the Vancouver metro area and across the province.
“It’s a tremendous source of pride for us,” says the club’s director of community relations, Jamie Taras. “We’re quite fortunate as a team to have so many guys who live in the community year-round and who want to be involved in our programs. These aren’t just guys popping into a classroom telling kids to stay in school or do a cheque presentation. Our programs require them to do training in order to understand the subject matter they are addressing and in many cases also means bringing their own life experiences to the presentation as well.”
The Lions take part in four core community programs during the off season: Lions Pride, FortisBC Energy Champions, Be More Than a Bystander and Lions In The House. Each are aimed at a specific age group and each address a current challenge we face in our communities today.
Lions Pride is presented in with the Victim Services and Crime Prevention Division of the Ministry of Public Safety, and program highlights the importance of making positive choices and choosing alternate activities to gang involvement.
“We’ve all seen the effects of gang violence and it’s an issue that ultimately affects all of us,” notes Taras. “You may not have a child involved in a gang, but the costs associated with policing, property damage, theft or any other of a host of crimes such as selling drugs and associated violence obviously puts the community in danger. We need to demonstrate to young men and women that there a significant number of positive choices to make rather than associating with a gang or taking part in these kinds of activities.”
Be More Than A Bystander has been one of the club’s most successful and noteworthy community endeavours. It’s presented in partnership with the Ending Violence Association , BC Ministry of Children and Family Development,Encana Corporation and is supported by the BC Federation of Labour. Be More Than a Bystander aims to raise awareness about the impact of violence against women and attempts to break the silence surrounding such violence by providing tools, language and practical ideas about how to be more than a bystander, how to speak up and how to communicate that violence and abuse is not acceptable.
“The issue of violence against girls and women in our society is arguably one of the most serious and widespread problems we face today,” says Taras. “It’s a tremendously difficult topic to address, but the training our players undergo in this program is extensive and their ability to connect with young people, specifically young men, is absolutely critical in taking critical steps to eradicating this behaviour.”
Lions in the House is a longstanding and popular school program which was created specifically for youth in grades six through nine. Supported by the Industry Training Authority and Pacific NorthWest LNG, the Lions in the House initiative focuses on the power of positive choices, being the best you can be as well as beginning to examine possible life paths that lead towards learning a trade.
“Kids today are far more connected with the world around them than previous generations,” admits Taras. “They face challenging problems at a younger age, they are introduced to technology at a younger age and through Lions in the House, they not only learn about what positive decision making means to their future, they also get introduced to the possibility of what choosing a trade may offer them in a province which is going to be experience unprecedented growth in the next decade.”
FortisBC Energy Champions is a timely and popular program designed for children in kindergarten through grade seven, emphasizing the importance of environmental responsibility and being an Energy Champion. Lion players will visit more than 75 elementary schools located throughout the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior and northern British Columbia from January through March speaking to thousands of kids about we can do to keep our province strong, healthy and beautiful from and environmental standpoint.
“All you need to do is take one step outside to see how beautiful this province is and how lucky we are to experience it each day,” says Taras. “We also have a responsibility to ensure its future by creating our very own Energy Champions. The simple act of turning out a light in an empty room seems rather elementary, but put into the context turning out hundreds of thousands of lights in an equal amount of rooms has a tremendously positive effect on our environment and that’s the mindset we’re trying to instill in these young kids.”
Last year, the Lions made more than 235 appearances as an organization and it’s shaping up to another busy one in 2016.
“It’s easily our busiest time of the year and we’ve just touched four programs,” says Taras. “We have the Orange Helmet Awards in April that we are working on right now which will feature a very special guest and of course, all of our plans for amateur football appearances as well. It’s a lot of work but it’s also very important to all of us to give back to the people who have supported us as a club for more than 60 years.”