HEROS Coast to Coast: Vancouver

Mar 15, 2024 | News, SuperHEROS, Vancouver

The Vancouver HEROS chapter is where it all began, and the first ever HEROS program continues to be a staple within its community, even to this day.

Launched in 2000, the Vancouver HEROS program has continuously served young people living in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver over its impressive 24 year history, and still brings volunteers, players, and their community together, one week at a time.

Justin Borsato, one of HEROS longest standing volunteers, has been with the Vancouver, B.C. arm of the program since the very start. Each season, he spends hundreds of hours leading the on-ice instruction for the Vancouver HEROS and SuperHEROS chapters while also working with HEROS International, volunteering his time to deliver HEROS programming in Belfast, Northern Ireland each summer.

Early on in his teaching career, Justin was looking to create a hockey program for kids in his school’s community.

“I talked to my principal after about a month of being here. The principal had heard that someone was doing something like that on Tuesdays here. He’s like ‘you should go over there’. “So I went over to the rink, I had my skates and my stick and I met (HEROS Founder) Norm Flynn. I was like, ‘Hey, are you the guy that runs the hockey program here?’

“And Norm said, ‘yes’“

“I was like, yeah, great,” said Justin. “I’d love to be part of it. What do you need me to do?”

Justin was already equipped with a hockey background, and his experience as a teacher managing a classroom made the match up a great fit. The rest was history.

Today, the Vancouver HEROS program looks slightly different, though retains its core values and principles.

The Vancouver HEROS program maintains its Tuesday afternoon ice-time at Britannia Arena – the exact same time and place where it started nearly 25 years ago.

The Vancouver SuperHEROS program launched in 2021 and practices every Sunday morning throughout the hockey season. While its first year saw the program run out of Surrey, B.C, the team quickly relocated to the University of British Columbia (UBC), to be closer to our UBC Thunderbird partners.

Throughout his (very long) time volunteering with HEROS, Justin has created no shortage of incredible memories, but for him, there are a few that that stick out.

Recently, Justin was able to take part in surprising a Vancouver HEROS player with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As part of the Air Canada Fan Flight program, Justin was able to join in on the fun when Air Canada surprised a HEROS player and his mom, two of the biggest Canucks fans you’ll ever meet, with a trip to Las Vegas to watch the Canucks take on the Vegas Golden Knights with their family. For this player and their family, a trip to Las Vegas to watch their favourite NHL team play was something they never thought possible.

“It got announced while at the Canucks game and they got on the big screen and couldn’t be more excited for the chance to travel.”, said Justin.

“For SuperHEROS, we have a boy who never went to school and just didn’t have the confidence. The parents were worried about him not being able to fit in, in the classroom and his high school. After two years of SuperHEROS with us, they put him in school and said that his confidence has just come leaps and bounds and they felt like he was ready, and they attributed that to the HEROS program. I thought that was really cool that we could have that kind of impact,” said Justin.

Unique to HEROS Vancouver

A special tradition that Vancouver HEROS incorporates after every practice is the awarding of the “bling necklace”.

“We have what’s called the bling necklace,” said Justin. “It’s a big huge silver chain with the Canucks emblem on it. At the end of every session, we award it to a kid who has made the people around him or her better. Whether it’s helping other kids up or whether it’s giving them a pat in the back, they’re just trying to make each other better rather than themselves.”

Another tradition that HEROS Vancouver utilizes is one that helps players develop confidence and builds a positive relationship between them and their peers is during their warmup.

“We always have four kids lead the warmup and it’s great for confidence,” said Justin. “The reason we do four is because if a player gets shy, they’ve got three peers with them. They sit in the middle of the circle and lead a stretch with all the other kids around them.”

Because Vancouver is home to HEROS flagship program, there’s one aspect of this particular chapter that will always remain unique to the players, volunteers, and partners there: the program’s longevity and how that longevity has connected the past with the present.

24 years is a long time to be running a program in the same place, at the same time each week, and it’s now providing an incredible look into the future of the newer HEROS chapters and what’s possible when young people are given the support they need through every stage of their life journey.

“I like that it comes full circle,” said Justin. “I think because we’re an old program, we have a lot of kids who are now 30 years old that are coming by, that are wanting to help out and volunteer. It’s great to see that they’ve become successful and that they still have that desire to come back and they haven’t forgotten about us.”, said Justin.  “We’ve been invited to weddings, we’ve been to graduations. HEROS has been a huge part of the community.”

The Vancouver chapter of HEROS has been, and continues to be, a shining example of what HEROS programming can do for young people and their communities. Thank you to our incredible volunteers and partners, including our Vancouver Home-Ice Partner the Herrendorf Family Foundation, for inspiring 24 years of change!