Blue Jays' Rookie League Program Goes Year-Round To Help Toronto Community Housing

By Aaron Brophy 1/20/16 |

Rookie League Coach Kadeem, Blue Jays players Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Dalton Pompey, Toronto Community Housing Corporation President & CEO Greg Spearn, Mayor John Tory, Jays Care Executive Director Robert Witchel, Blue Jays Central Host Jamie Campbell — photo credit: Jays Care Foundation
Baseball may be the great summer pastime, but the Toronto Blue Jays have just hit a homerun that'll be felt all year. The team's Jays Care Foundation charitable arm donated $246,000 Jan. 20 to Toronto Community Housing for the purpose of creating year-round programming to benefit youths via its Rookie League outreach program.

Rookie League, a Jays-sponsored program that's been around for 27 years, gives participants the opportunity to play, learn and enjoy the game of baseball. It's open to children between the ages of 6-12 from the 50 Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods across the city. Last year the program had more than 1,250 participants. Registered Rookie League players receive a hat, water bottle, back pack, glove and a Jays t-shirt.

By expanding the Rookie League from a summer program to a year-long one Jays Care's total commitment to Toronto Community Housing rises to more than $500,000 for 2016. The new funding will provide programming for 250 children in 10 different communities as well as provide 25 youth employment opportunities.

"A program like Rookie League where children and young people can come to learn and play is vital in our city, particularly for those living in Toronto Community Housing. I thank the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Community Housing for this partnership to expand a successful program," said Toronto Mayor Tory in a press release. "This investment highlights the revitalization that Toronto Community Housing, together with partners like the Toronto Blue Jays, is bringing to communities across Toronto."

Rookie League participants are taught life lessons about teamwork, leadership and fair play and are also provided opportunities for physical fitness, health and nutrition education, and encouraged lead a healthy, active lifestyle. The year-round version of the program will operate in designated schools and community centres with participants continuing to learn baseball skills in a manner modified for indoor play.

Toronto Community Housing is the largest social housing provider in Canada and the second largest in North America, providing homes to nearly 60,000 low and moderate-income households, including seniors, families, singles, refugees, recent immigrants to Canada and people with special needs. It operates more than 2,200 buildings including high, mid, and low-rise apartments, and townhouses and houses.

Jays Care officials say they hope this money provides lasting change for youth in Toronto Community Housing communities.

"Just as the Blue Jays inspired a nation in 2015," said Jays Care Executive Director Robert Witchel, "we use baseball to inspire kids. Rookie League is a sport for development program. Our goal is not to create young baseball players; the goal is to use baseball to create young leaders. This program is designed to achieve outcomes that are determined in conjunction with each of the Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods we serve. The challenges facing youth today, particularly in underserviced communities, are considerable. At a fundamental level, Rookie League provides an opportunity for children in Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods to simply be kids. At the same time, we aim to encourage positive behaviour, provide access to positive role models, encourage academic success and develop healthy lifestyles, including physical activity. Starting with these 10 communities, Rookie League will use baseball to create lasting social change for children and youth year-round."

Teamwork and mentorship opportunities are some of the valuable things provided by Rookie League.

"Rookie League has already given over 10,000 kids the chance to learn about teamwork and fair play from their baseball heroes," said Toronto Community Housing Board Chair President & CEO Greg Spearn. "Participating in Rookie League is an incredible team mentorship opportunity that can help kids chart their future, and thanks to our expanding partnership with Jays Care Foundation, even more children and youth in our communities will benefit starting in 2016."

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