Toronto-based Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) Foundation was the only Canadian organization awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Sports Award, alongside America's The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism and InnerCity Weightlifting, for “innovative and influential approaches to using sports to build a culture of health in their communities.”
The awards, which come with $7500 (USD), was handed out at the RWJF headquarters in Princeton, NJ, on Sept. 28. Created in 1972, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has “supported research and programs targeting some of America’s most pressing health issues—from substance abuse to improving access to quality health care,” it says on its web site. It is America’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health care.
There are three award categories: a professional sports team community relations department or foundation; an individual athlete or professional coach's foundation; and an organization that is an influential leader and model for others.
“Congratulations to these three organizations and their creative approach to building a Culture of Health in America," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO, said in a press statement. "Their ongoing work demonstrates a much-needed passion for community and their belief in the power of individuals to make that community stronger.”
The press release outlines the three winners and provides statements from the founders and/or executives.
A professional sports team community relations department or foundation:
MLSE Foundation believes all kids should have access to sport and the opportunity to develop lasting dreams on the playing field. With the support of MLSE’s teams, the Foundation funds the refurbishment of local athletic facilities and programs that support kids through sports and recreation. Its latest project, MLSE LaunchPad, is a 42,000 square foot youth facility that will be the first collaborative space in North America to leverage sport, education and research to promote social change.
“Our vision is to change lives through the spirit and the power of sports,” said executive director Michael Bartlett. “We’re extremely honoured to receive recognition from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for our work and we’re excited to see where MLSE LaunchPad takes us - the opportunities are endless.”
An individual athlete or professional coach's foundation:
The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism helps families affected by autism live life to the fullest through access to care, an active lifestyle and adult independence. The Foundation was established by NFL quarterback Doug Flutie and his wife Laurie, whose personal experience raising a son on the autism spectrum inspired their passion to help other families.
The Foundation's "Autism on the Go" initiative honors Doug's late parents, who instilled a love of recreation and physical activity in their children. Autism on the Go provides funding for recreational and sports programs for all individuals on the autism spectrum.
"Having a child affected by autism, I see the positive effect an active lifestyle has on his health, both physically and emotionally,” said Flutie. "I am proud of the work we are doing at the Flutie Foundation to create more recreational opportunities for individuals with autism and it is such an honor to be recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for our impact."
An organization that is an influential leader and model for others:
InnerCity Weightlifting reduces youth violence by connecting proven-risk young people with new networks and opportunities, including meaningful career tracks in and beyond personal fitness. InnerCity Weightlifting uses the gym to replace segregation and isolation with economic mobility and social inclusion, disrupting the system that leads to urban street violence. The gym is a hook to earn our students trust, build relationships, and provide a positive community for them to belong. They gain hope. They get to see the world - and be seen by it - in a very different way, paving a path for sustainable and systemic change.
"We are incredibly honored and excited to be a recipient of the RWJF Sports Award. Our work centers around using sport and careers in fitness to reduce violence by creating economic mobility and by facilitating connections," said Jon Feinman, executive director and founder.
"By bridging social capital we as individuals and as a society gain the value of perspective, knowledge, and understanding. It allows us to find meaningful solutions for some of our most challenging problems and to help heal communities as we replace fear with understanding, replace segregation and isolation with inclusion. This award means so much, as it helps to further this message, and to empower all people growing up in our nations cities, no matter what section they were born in. We are honored to be able to partner with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and continue this journey together."Jordan