Mentoring youth through basketball

By Yasmin Parodi

The Battle of Finch is an alumni basketball event at C.W.Jefferys Collegiate Institute that brings the community together to support each other.

The basketball match pits the C.W. Jefferys senior men’s basketball team against a team filled with alumni from local schools such as Westview Centennial Secondary School and Emery Collegiate Institute.

The event, organized by Helping Neighbourhoods Implement Change (HNIC), isn’t just about watching a good game of hoops, it also about mentorship. The alumni players, who have since graduated and moved on to careers of their own, give back to their community by helping to guide local youth toward their own future career paths.

HNIC is a non-profit group dedicated to helping at-risk youth to lead successful and productive lives. To date, HNIC has helped more than 200 boys and girls from at-risk neighbourhoods between the ages of 13-18 to make successful transitions into higher education and the work force.

Chris Blackwood, HNIC’s founder said the organization has two different programs geared toward helping young men and women navigate what can be a sometimes challenging period in their life.

“Gentlemen H.A.T.S. (Having the Ability to Switch) provides our male youth with the ability to switch behaviours, attitudes, and characteristics in different social environments,” he said. “Pretty in Pink provides our female youth with confidence and social tools to become a better student, employee, entrepreneur, women, and mother.  Ultimately, be better than the negative stereotypes that society has given our young women living in at risk communities.”

Blackwood said he came up with the idea for the community basketball game as a way to showcase the fact that C.W. Jefferys is a safe place for students and is filled with a positive and caring community.

The school had been carrying a negative stigma ever since 15 year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed inside the school in 2007.

Blackwood, who also attended C.W. Jefferys, said the tournament is an opportunity for students to expressive themselves and to show the school in a positive light.

The Battle of Finch has been a great success from the beginning bringing students, alumni and community members together and quickly morphed into an annual event. The third annual tournament was held on May 24 in front of more than 200 people.

Blackwood said local coaches Roy Rana, coach of the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team, Phil Edwards, a community developer, John Smith, coach of the George Brown men’s basketball team and Bob Maydo, coach of the Emery senior boys basketball team played a huge role in not only coaching the teams, but in helping to mentor all of the participants in the event.

Blackwood said he wanted to give a special thanks to Adam Ali, founder of and  Tom Rakocevic, a fellow C.W. Jefferys graduate and NDP candidate for York West. Blackwood said he also wanted to thank his HNIC team Rayon Brown, Harpreet Gill, Simone Spike, and Tanisha Evans for their massive contributions to the event.

The first year, the tournament was held only at C.W. Jefferys, but it had proved so popular that by the second year, similar tournaments were also held at Westview, Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School, Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute  and Jarvis Collegiate Institute.

HNIC provides authentic and transformational mentoring to youth living in at risk communities throughout the GTA.

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