Super HEROS Pilot Project
Since introducing SuperHEROS in 2018 we have seen it rapidly expand to more cities across western Canada, demonstrating the need for a safe and welcoming place for children and youth with physical and cognitive challenges to play the sport they love. In many cases our SuperHEROS look for an opportunity and they see a closed door, someone telling them they shouldn’t or can’t do something. What our program proves is that sometimes all these individuals need is a chance; a chance to grow, a chance to work, a simple chance to participate.
The difference we see in many of our players from the time they started with us to who they are now is awe inspiring. Young people who had been uncomfortable in social settings have begun engaging with others in their regular day lives, some having issues in the traditional school environment were now showing progress with their academics, others having difficulty making friends are now surrounded by their very own team. When given the chance our players are capable of amazing things.
A pillar in all of our chapters is that the support our players receive at the rink doesn’t stop when they leave. We offer our players career development support, tutoring services, after school snack programs, scholarship opportunities and support during difficult personal situations. With the launch of our new pilot program, these services will now extend to our SuperHEROS. In partnership with the Flames Sports Bank some of our older SuperHEROS have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience. A few times each week members from our Calgary SuperHEROS chapter show up to Flames Sports Bank and are taught real employment skills and help with the day-to-day activities. Securing a job can be a difficult task for anyone, but individuals who live with physical and cognitive challenges face even more barriers finding gainful employment. Everyone deserves the dignity and opportunity to challenge themselves and to earn a living. It is early days for this pilot but our participating players are thriving.
It is our goal to help change the conversation around supportive employment. Each of our players is not only capable but passionate about being able to acquire new skills and responsibilities. Securing a job teaches valuable life skills, offers structure and purpose, and most importantly, demonstrates that their disability does not define who they are and what they can be.
Sponsor Profile – Buntain Insurance
HEROS has the opportunity to have programs in many diverse communities across Canada. Each chapter has its own identity and culture stemming from its local community. The reason we are able to establish programs in communities across the country is thanks to local sponsors that want to benefit the communities they operate in. Organizations like Buntain Insurance help us ensure we can operate within communities that need our programs the most. Buntain Insurance, with five locations across Vancouver, enjoys focusing on programs that benefit their local community.
Buntain’s approach to giving and supporting its local community stems from its staff’s collective experience. Nearly all initiatives Buntain engages in has a staff and/or Buntain family connection in some way. Buntain’s connection to HEROS stems from a past hockey relationship between HEROS founder Norm Flynn and Manager, Gord Buntain. There is a clear passion for each initiative they support because it has an internal connection within the organization. The Buntain family is very passionate about sports and specifically positive youth development and is clearly demonstrated with Buntain’s commitment to supporting HEROS.
Buntain’s support of HEROS aligns with their belief that supporting young people ensures a brighter future for everyone. By providing youth access to an expensive sport such as hockey when they may not have access otherwise, is as an effective method to making a positive impact on the next generation. According to Danny Buntain, insurance broker with the firm and granddaughter of Buntain Insurance’s founder, Jim Buntain, it’s about “planting seeds to ensure boys and girls have the tools to be well adjusted adults.” Buntain recognizes and understands that hockey is a great tool to teach work ethic, teamwork, accountability, and is an overall amazing sport that connects people and keeps them connected to their community. For these reasons Buntain is proud to support the HEROS organization because it allows the community and the people in it the ability to thrive and grow.
The Buntain family and Buntain Insurance have deep roots in the lower mainland and their approach to giving showcases their love and commitment to those roots. With the challenges we face in our society its organizations like Buntain and their commitment to local communities where we can make the biggest impact. Positively impacting youth at the grassroots level is the most effective way to ensure we have a brighter future.
Sports in general play a big part in the Buntain family’s lives and they attribute this to their success. The family is active in a variety of sports and continue to be active members in their local and national sports communities. According to Danny, the organizations commitment to the local community is one of the ways Buntain has continued to be a successful organization, maintaining some clients for over 50 years. Danny describes a positive two-way relationship between the organization and the communities they operate in. During difficult times, for either the community or Buntain, each has stepped up to show support for the other. It is for these reasons that Buntain sees investing in programs that support their local community and youth, like HEROS, as creating the greatest return. We want to express our deepest thank you to Buntain Insurance for our continued partnership and friendship and we are excited for what the future holds.
Volunteer Profile – Mark Gage
Every week at our HEROS programs we see courage expressed in different forms. Whether it’s a player stepping onto the ice for the first time in their life, emerging from their comfort zone to make new friends, or a volunteer just getting introduced to the program, the presence of courage is everywhere. It is a common element in all of our programs and occurs on and off the ice.
When Mark Gage joined the Vancouver HEROS chapter he knew the program was something special. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was getting into when he arrived at the rink on his first day, admitting he expected a casual shinny game rather than a full practice. Long-time program coordinator Justin Borsato, and Mark’s close friend, threw him a curve ball and asked him to tie skates for the group. He vividly remembers seeing 13 hands go up when he asked who needed skates tied. Some might have found that situation overwhelming, but Mark sprang into action assisting wherever he could. We frequently ask our players to try their best, give their best effort and have the courage to fail. Mark has exhibited these traits since his first day and is a wonderful example to our players.
In return, Mark admires the players ability to put their trust in someone new to the program, “They instantly know if there’s an adult at HEROS, that person is someone who can help. They respected me even though they didn’t know me.” He goes on to say, “That’s the surface stuff. The trust factor comes when they see you week after week.” A key element of our programs is consistency. Week over week players arrive at the same time, for the same ice time and see the same faces. Our players need to know that the adults they see at the rink are here to stay and they can be counted on. The relationships that our volunteers form with our players are truly remarkable.
One relationship in particular that resonates with Mark is between himself and a courageous Vancouver player named Kayne. You may remember from a past ATB we showcased the amazing story of Kayne, who was facing life-or-death medical challenges. Mark’s commitment to Kayne never wavered and embodies our HEROS core value, that on or off the ice our volunteers’ support to our players continues. Mark visited Kayne before and after work, organized special visits and was participating in wellbeing meetings with Kayne’s family, something he admits was difficult to do. But despite the challenging situation, Mark was there and did whatever Kayne and his family needed. We are happy to say that Kayne has made a tremendous recovery and even worked hard enough to get back on the ice. At his first practice since his health scare, the other players, on their own, decided to designate a portion of their ice time to Kayne and Mark, which was an incredibly moving moment in the tough journey they have been through together.
Our volunteers continuously step up to the plate to ensure our players have the support they need, even though it may be an unfamiliar situation. It’s part of the fabric that makes HEROS what it is today and would not be possible without the courage from our players and volunteers equally. It begins when a young person signs up having never skated or played hockey or when volunteers like Mark show up to the rink week after week to support the players. We are the program we are today because of individuals like Mark and we are grateful he chooses to be on our team.
For more on Mark and his tremendous contributions, check out the Vancouver Canucks and Sport Chek saying thank you.