Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Jays Were Back Today!


More terrific volunteer work by the Jays' personnel
Three weeks ago I wrote about the Jays Care Foundation and their outstanding work in renovating Stan Wadlow Park. June 13 marked the official "unveiling" of the new lights, repainted bleachers and re-landscaped diamond at the south-west corner of the park and the event was attended by Ricky Romero and Drew Hutchison. Unfortunately, I found out about it too late to see the two Jay players, but it was still great fun watching the young kids attending an instructional clinic that evening. So today, when the Jays Care people returned to Stan Wadlow with even more Blue Jay players in tow, you'd think I'd have found out about it sooner.

But you'd be wrong.


J.P. Arencibia, Ricky Romero, Rajai Davis and some lucky kids
I heard a commotion over at the diamond this afternoon and looked out my window through the haze of the 35-degree heat. I could just make out the Blue Jay logo on a few canvas gazebo-like structures around the park; it was a little easier to spot the throngs of kids (about 900 in all) who were also there. I quickly got down to the park only to discover that, once again, I had arrived as things were beginning to wrap up. (I have only now begun to follow the Jays Care Foundation on Twitter, because fool me once....well, fool me twice, sadly.) I did manage to talk to a couple of the people running the show and they told me that Ricky Romero had been there again, along with J.P. Arencibia and Rajai Davis.The occasion was the opening day of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy's "Rookie League", which works in conjunction with 44 Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods to give over 900 kids in "priority communities" a chance to get outside and play ball one day each week.


Inflatable slide and (I think) batting cage
Romero, Arencibia and Davis are three of the five honourary captains, one for each of the Rookie League divisions; the other two are Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie. The Rookie League, which is the Canadian branch of Major League Baseball's "Jr. RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner cities)" program (for kids from five to twelve years old), "teaches baseball skills and the importance of teamwork, co-operation and partnership" and offers "character-building employment to sixty youths each summer". Some of these kids immigrated to Canada at a young age without ever having even seen a game of baseball before, but they seemed just as thrilled as anyone who is a long-time fan of the sport. The Rookie League runs for seven weeks, wrapping up on August 16 with a fantastic event: a championship game at the Rogers Centre, an awards ceremony and the opportunity for the kids to meet some of their favourite Blue Jays players. Pretty cool stuff indeed. This is the 24th year that the Jays Care Foundation has worked with Toronto Community Housing, but this summer they've expanded to a national level for the first time with programs in sixteen cities across nine provinces, in a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada.


A remarkable collection of goodies for the kids
Today the youngsters listened to the three Blue Jays' stars talk about what baseball meant to them as kids and the importance of their communities and coaches as they were growing up. Also, every lucky boy and girl in attendance received a hat, glove, shirt and bag to keep! What a terrific program for these kids and I was barely even aware of its existence, let alone the scope of the enterprise; hopefully, that will gradually begin to change. In addition to everything else, twelve of these youths are heading to Kansas City on Thursday to take part in the Jr RBI All-Star Classic, a forty-game tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds being held in conjunction with the Major League All-Star Game festivities. What a thrill that must be for these young men! This is the first-ever Jr. RBI team from Canada to compete in the tournament, which began in 2009. Some of the lads on the Blue Jays' team were born in such far-flung countries as Uganda, Chad, Sri Lanka and Jamaica and the dozen dedicated youngsters trained with Baseball Academy coaches every Sunday for two months in preparation for their opportunity to represent all of Canada in Kansas City.


A very long line of buses waiting for the kids
I happened to just casually mention to the first gentleman I spoke to at the park today that I was taking pictures for a blog and before I knew it I was speaking to another gentleman who had read my original piece from three weeks ago (when the Blue Jays retweeted it!) and then he, in turn, introduced me to a woman in charge of Jays Care and Jays Community communications, one of only eight permanent employees of Jays Care (which is actually a 100% increase from last year). She remembered my blog immediately ("The penguin, right?") and we had a lively conversation about the program and the events of the day. Because, like a truly professional journalist, I visited the event with neither a notebook nor my business cards in hand, she very kindly offered to email me as much information as I needed to write this blog piece and I am truly indebted to her. (If there are any errors here, though, they are solely mine.) Several of the pictures here are from the Jays Care Twitter feed as well; more thanks for those are owed to my wonderful contact. 


I hope that the next time the Jays show up in my backyard I am clever enough to have found out about it ahead of time. But at least the important people showed up: the kids, their ball-playing heroes and the amazing volunteers. A job well done, again.

10 comments:

  1. It's terrific that so many at-risk youth are being given such a wonderful opportunity. Sports events like this can be such a great community-builder and integration opportunity for newcomers. Great to have this initiative in an neighbourhood that stands to benefit a lot from it!

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    1. The second guy I talked to (I didn't use names because I can honestly only remember one of them and I don't know how to spell it!) told me that one of the kids in the programme was from Chad and had only ever played soccer when he arrived here at age 6. He was fascinated by baseball and wanted to play it; he joined this programme when he turned 7 and now he's 12 and a star. :)

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  2. Yes , they do do some good work in the community but the charity itself needs some improvement. They have a very high administrative cost for a charity and they seem to have a VERY high turnover rate for employees (especially for such a small employee roster) Since this article they are down to 7 permanent employees and are looking to fill 2 positions AGAIN. Perhaps its leadership is the problem?

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    1. I can only speak to what I have seen of their work in the community as I am not affiliated with them in any way. From what I understand, you are right about the admin costs being high for a charity, but they are somewhere in the middle for a sports charity - and I am not saying that to defend the numbers. The turnover rate you allude to is beyond my scope of knowledge. Thanks for the comment, though!

      If anyone reading this can shed any light on the comment above, please feel free to do so. Thanks!

      (And by "shed any light" I mean "speak to the points raised" not "tell me who wrote it". I respect the commenter's anonymity.)

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  3. In regards to the comment above about poor leadership, I have to agree. I had the misfortune of meeting with the executive director, Danielle a while back and she looked me in the eye and lied right to my face. I know she lied because I was speaking to one of her mangers earlier and got an entirely different response, which as executive director, she knew the truth yet lied to make the foundation seem better than it is. She passed it off as a "misunderstanding" yet she did it again with another charity. Just shortly after that encounter, I met a vey nice young man at their rookie league -who it turns out was related to Melinda rogers od Rogers Communication and the chairman of the board of directors. he was doing an internship with them along with 2 others young woman. we got talking and i asked them where their offices were located and they told me in side the Rogers Center. it then came up between the interns that the nephew of Ms rogers had his own office, while everyone else had a shared office. Clearly the young man was embarrassed and this didn't seem to sit well with the other interns and i imagine with other staff members. The nepotism jokes came out and then they were assured that his aunt had nothing to do with it and that it was the director who made the call to give him his own office. Who has ever heard of an intern getting his own office??? Clearly a poor decision and unfair treatment but after briefly meeting the director, I was NOT surprised. Later that day, she gave a speech to the press and was one of the phoniest people I have ever met. The interns also told me that she only shows up when the press is around. albeit, I Am sure she is busy but this only makes me see just how phoney and fake she is. I also find it all misleading with the foundation passing off rookie league "all summer long" 8-week program" yet failing to mention it is ONLY one day a week for 8 weeks -A GRAND TOTAL OF 8 DAYS long. This is misleading but not surprising. I can not wrap my head around someone with questionable ethics to say the least being in charge. Perhaps it is why so many staff leave? All I can do is share my experience with the leader and let people know, I am not surprised it has been criticized for poor leadership. What really troubles me is that they are trying to teach kids "important life skills" like fair play and honesty and not lying to get ahead,etc.. and yet the executive director seems to lack some of these important life skills herself! Perhaps if she were removed or stepped down, then this foundation would be able to do better work in the community and for kids. How can you expect kids to gain important life skills when your own ethics are questionable? It is embarrassing to the organization, players and an insult to donors and supporters!

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  4. Interesting comments. Of course, they would hold a lot more water with me if they weren't offered anonymously while including the names of people you are upset with. That approach doesn't really work for me, I'm afraid.

    You said in your comment that the Foundation was being "misleading" by "failing to mention it is only one day a week". This is quite incorrect, as a simple click on my link "opening day of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy's 'Rookie League'" would show you. Here is a direct quote from that linked site:

    "The kids will form teams based on region on Thursdays in three different ballparks around the city for the next eight weeks, before finishing at the Rogers Centre. During the week, they will play in their own communities and there have been coaches hired to lead the events."

    I also heard exactly the same information from three different people on the day I saw them at Stan Wadlow Park. I don't see anything remotely "misleading" about this.

    Furthermore, unless Ms. Bedasse, whom I know nothing about and have never met, is actually the one dealing directly with the kids, I fail to see how her "ethics", whatever they may be, have any impact whatsoever on the mentors' ability to teach the kids "fair play". I simply don't see this trickling down, especially since you yourself said that the interns claim she "only show(s) up when the press is around" (which, really, is her job when you get right down to it) because she is too busy. Her tactics - again, I've never met the woman - may indeed come into play when we're discussing leadership and high turnover, but I don't see them affecting the message being delivered at the community level.

    I am not trying to say there isn't truth to your comments. I am simply saying that you don't bring a lot of credibility when you speak specifically about people - and name them - but won't tell us who you are or in what capacity you met Ms. Bedasse and the interns. I also don't know what the "lie" was that she told you, nor what other charity she was representing when she "did it again". My name is public on this blog so I have some stake in what is said here (although I most assuredly don't take responsibility for comments made by other people); I don't work for anyone concerned, though, so I cannot refute or confirm anything you have said.

    I do thank you for the comment, though, and I wonder if anyone from the Foundation would care to comment further?

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  5. I do see your point of if the director isn't in direct contact with the mentors or kids themselves, then her ethics or lack there of, shouldn't have an effect on a community level. But not sure this is the type of person that should be in a leadership capacity. It seems hypocritical. I didnt even know about their high administrative costs but as I said, before, I'm not surprised one bit.

    I do appreciate your article and do see some good come from this foundation but from what I have experienced, I had to agree with the anonymous person before in regards to what could be a result of poor leadership.

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    1. I understand what you are saying and you are likely correct: if there is a problem with high turnover and morale then it would likely be coming from the top. I'm very pleased that you understand that what I was writing about was the tremendous work they are doing in the community; I wrote these pieces mainly because I really haven't been reading about it anywhere else. If there are problems at other levels of the Foundation, that is another matter; however, I understand how frustrating it can be to find avenues to discuss those sorts of issues.

      Again, thank you very much for this discussion. I'm doing a bit of research behind the scenes to try to shed some more light on these issues; if I come up with anything it will likely be a future blog post.

      I appreciate your comments!

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  6. Just to be clear the first anonymous comment is from someone else. The one above is from me (the same person as the second anonymous post.) My mistake for not hitting the reply button to avoid any confusion.

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    1. No worries - I worked it out! :) I really am very interested in hearing more and I hope someone from the Foundation will respond at some point. Thanks again for the comments!

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I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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