For the kids participating in Free Footie, the program is a way to spend their afternoon playing a sport they love with friends.
For their parents, it’s a much needed after school care program. But for REACH Edmonton, Free Footie is one of many tools they use to combat a generational culture of violence in this city.
“It's definitely a true prevention program,” said Adele Towns, director of finance and communication with REACH Edmonton. “You're getting kids out into the neighbourhood parks where they can play soccer. That builds a sense of community amongst the kids and the parents and the neighbours, even.”
The groundwork for REACH Edmonton was laid in 2010 after the Mayor and Council asked a former police chief and a mental health advocate to figure out what would make Edmontonians feel more safe and secure.
That lead to the REACH report and a year later the creation of REACH to oversee the recommendations.
“We really feel that we want to create this in a generation,” Adele said. “It's a 25 year plan. It takes a while to change a culture.”
REACH Edmonton’s objective is a simple one, but its solution is complicated. And so its activity has to reflect the nature of the problem.
In order to achieve a reduction in violence, REACH Edmonton is backbone for a range of different programs, so the people on the ground who know the solutions to the challenge are supported.
“We work extensively with newcomers, immigrants, and refugees in the context of family violence,” Adele said.
REACH Edmonton is also involved in a crisis diversion program for youth, a group to combat marijuana grow ops, and an after school program for marginalized kids.
REACH Edmonton casts a wide net, and so they must in order to combat a problem that they feel can come from a variety of sources.
“We always look at what are people doing already so we're not duplicating,” Adele said. “How can we bring people into the fold? We're removing barriers for services for families that need that. For kids that need that.”
Free Footie, then, is right up their alley. Kids are able to play soccer without the kind of barriers that traditional community league sports have on kids with working parents.
REACH Edmonton believes this is exactly the type of program needed to seriously change the culture in a community.
“Parents who are working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet can have a good place for their kids to be. They're not at home getting in trouble, they're in with other kids, they're learning things,” Adele said.
Because of this, REACH Edmonton has helped out Free Footie from the very beginning. It’s gathered funds and helped out administratively, anything from buying soccer balls to maneuvering through insurance policies. And, though it’s early days, it seems to be working.
“We really feel like we're helping,” Adele said. “We get cards and letters from kids who say it's so important to them to be a part of a team.”
Written By: Patrick Connolly Photo By: Catherine Page