June 23rd, 2024

Organizations help keep kids active, healthy

By Peggy Revell on June 16, 2018.


As the phrase goes: When you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything. Yet study after study has found Canadian children aren’t meeting basic recommendations for daily physical activity.

“We need to have healthy kids in our community,” said Sharon Hayward, CEO of the Medicine Hat YMCA. “We know that screentime’s a factor, we know that kids are spending more time indoors than they ever have been before. There are health outcomes to that, whether it’s obesity or other kinds of chronic illness that they grow up.”

And children from lower socioeconomic households have fewer opportunities to participate in sports — which is why multiple organizations in the community step up to ensure children have a chance.

Gear Up

Like the Medicine Hat Lions Club’s Gear Up program.

“Every year it’s gotten bigger,” said committee chairman James Higgins about the program which collects and redistributes used sports gear. The focus is mainly for hockey and ringette, Higgins said, as the equipment can be expensive, especially as kids grow from year to year and if there are multiple children in the family.

For several years, volunteers gather over a three-day period in August to sort and evaluate donations for safety. Then families can come through and select what is needed.

In 2016, they assisted 84 kids, and 77 kids in 2017. There’s now repeat business, and families bringing back gear to be donated and used again, said Higgins.

One of the most memorable moments for Higgins over the years was outfitting head to toe a seven-year-old boy who had never played hockey before.

“He didn’t want to take his gear off,” said Higgins. “His mom came up to us with tears in her eyes.”

“It’s very humbling to get that reaction. You know you’ve filled a big need.”


This year, 2018, marks the 20th anniversary of Kidsport in Medicine Hat.

The program is a simple one, said local Kidsport board chair Connelly Sherwick: Local volunteers fundraise, those in need apply for assistance, then funds are sent to sports organizations to cover registration costs. The completely volunteer-driven program has helped cover costs for 21 different sports within the community so far.

“Not only are we helping kids get out and play, but it’s adding to those kids’ sense of community,” said Sherwick, as sports aren’t just about physical wellness but also building self esteem, confidence, fair play, discipline and other skills as they head into adulthood.

In 2016, the organization helped more than 300 kids, and they expect to help even more in 2018.

The economic downturn was a hit to charities with more people in need and fewer people able to donate, said Sherwick, but Kidsport volunteers have “worked their tails off.”

“We’re now at the point where in 2018, we have not only been able to raise our maximum funding back (up) to $300 per child per calendar year, but also adjust our income guidelines so that more people will be funded.”

Kidsport is 100 per cent volunteer driven with “very very little” administration costs, he said, extending a thank you to the donors, volunteers, and people in the community who help ensure children have access to sports.


Since launching in 2005, Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program has put half a million dollars into the Medicine Hat community.

“That’s our goal, to get as many kids to participate as possible,” said local Canadian Tire owner Robert Harvey, with funds going towards such things as registration fees, transportation, and equipment. They work with local partners to help identify those who may need assistance, Harvey said, helping an estimated 5,600 children since 2005.

“Last year was our largest year. We had about 1,600 kids participating,” he said, explaining that one way they’ve achieved these higher numbers is by providing funds to more children to cover costs for activities that are less expensive, such as swimming, soccer and multi-sports.

The funds are raised through various initiatives at the local Canadian Tire, Atmosphere, Sport Chek and Mark’s Work Wearhouse stores, he explained, with all money raised locally going directly back into the community — plus additional funds from the national arm of the organization.

“Last year within Medicine Hat, we raised over $40,000 but there was over $100,000 that was actually put back into the community,” Harvey said.

Since its launch, Jumpstart has spent $18.5 million within Alberta, and almost 250,000 children participated throughout the whole province, he said —and is one of multiple programs the company runs to help children become involved in sports.

Get Active

Working directly in schools is the YMCA’s Get Active program.

“We’re in the communities where kids don’t always have the opportunity to do these (activities), we’re basically expanding their horizons in a lot of ways,” said Hayward, with YMCA staff providing programming for students mainly during lunchtimes and after school.

Elm Street and St. Louis in the River Flats were selected as the first schools to be a part of the program when it launched in 2013, as they have a large number of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In 2016, the program expanded to include Southview School and I.F. Cox. The program is entirely funded by donations and grants, said Hayward, and costs an estimated $125,000 to run each year.

There’s an emphasis on evidence-based practices, said Hayward. Physical skills, such as balance, are assessed at the start of the year and reassessed at the end to see if the program has been effective.

“In the last two years in a row, the students have had a 40 per cent improvement on their scores,” she said.

But it’s not just about the numbers — it’s about exposing children to opportunities they might not otherwise have.

“We take the kids out to Elkwater each winter for the winter festival. They get to go do some non-traditional sports, tobogganing, snowshoeing, hiking, that kind of stuff,” said Hayward. “A lot of the kids have never been there. We’ve had kids every year that it’s the first time they’ve been able to go out and make snow angels. We had a kid one year when they took the bus across the city to go skating, didn’t realize that there was a river in the city.

“So in addition to helping kids be healthier, it’s also exposing them to the community as a whole in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”

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