Breaking down social barriers
If you play rugby, you expect to get knocked around a bit.
Bermudian Amanda Neale-Robinson has found the game to be excellent, too, at knocking down social barriers.
Since February, she’s been working with Toronto Inner-city Rugby Foundation, a non-profit organisation that introduces the sport to students who might have otherwise never had the chance.
“We reached 27,438 children this summer alone through rugby,” she said. “In addition to that, we gave 300 teenagers access to club rugby, supported nine outstanding athletes through provincial tryouts and offered around $52,000 in postsecondary scholarships.
“We’re really about reducing barriers to participation in sports. We focus mainly on neighbourhood improvement areas — you might call them emerging or low-income neighbourhoods — where there are underfunded resources and underfunded opportunities for young people to have access to after-school programmes and organised sports.”
TIRF was founded in 2011 by venture capitalist Alan Broadbent and his philanthropic friends after they noticed many high schoolers had the build and athleticism to play rugby, but were not exposed to it.
The programme has since expanded to include children between the ages of 6 and 12. It benefits from more than 200 community partners.
“In order to get children who are ready to play at that high school level, you need to invest in junior or elementary school programmes, so we started some rookie rugby curriculum delivery in elementary schools across the city,” Ms Neale-Robinson told Lifestyle.
“Rugby is such a values-driven sport. Once you know how to play, whatever community you’re in, you can find a rugby club and you’ve found your team — you’ve found your family.
“For young people that are struggling to figure out life, it’s really great to have some additional people in your corner, supporting you.”
The former DJ on Mix 106 decided to stay in Toronto after completing a BA in radio and television broadcasting at Ryerson University and an MA in public relations at Humber College. “What’s kept me in Toronto is the same reason I came to Toronto in the first place — opportunities,” she said. “I always walk with Bermuda in mind. I’m exploring and learning to eventually come back and share some knowledge and make things better.
“When I finished my postgraduate degree, it was the recession. Arts-focused jobs, media jobs, marketing jobs, entry-level positions were being eliminated.
“They were becoming six-month to a year non-paying internships. However, at the same time, Canada was experiencing this boom in the non-profit sector.
“I realised, that [the corporate] ladder doesn’t mean that much to me. It’s not about the title or the position, it’s about who I work with and what I do that gives me the most satisfaction. I’d never felt so sure about myself until I found my place serving in the non-profit sector.”
Before TIRF, the 35-year-old worked as a fundraiser for Regent Park Boys and Girls Club for six years. She has helped several other youth-oriented charities and now runs the marketing committee for Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre and sits on Netball Ontario’s board of directors.
“I have an interest in supporting youth and supporting youth programming,” she said.
“There’s a great quote attributed to Frederick Douglas: ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’. By investing in prevention and intervention programmes we can really transform and build community.
“I was a Girl Guide, I was student council president, I was always volunteering. I want other young people to find community because the more caring compassionate adults that are in your life, the better you’ll turn out.”
Although she doesn’t play herself, her dream is to see her sevens play teams in the Beyond Rugby Bermuda programme.
“I’ve been watching a lot of rugby lately,” she said. “I was watching a girls’ match.
“These two high schools were playing and on one team, the girls were intimidated to tackle. You could see the hesitation before they would try to take down a player. On the other team, the girls were fierce, they were just taking them down.
“What I like about rugby is that you’re always trying to fall forward. You’re trying to advance the ball, you’re physically pushing through obstacles. What a great analogy and physical reminder about life and resiliency — you’ve got to dig deep to push through. You don’t let people stand in your way. You don’t let yourself stand in your way. These young girls were standing in the way of their own victory.”
Learn more: www.tirfrugby.ca
Follow Amanda Neale-Robinson on Twitter: @MsNealeRobinson