By the time Justin Borsato reached WHL and university level hockey, he realized that highly competitive hockey wasn’t really for him. He decided to focus on “playing for fun” and he knew as soon as he started teaching at Britannia Elementary School his love for the game of hockey was something he wanted to share. His challenge was that he had a classroom full of athletes that didn’t have the means to play hockey but he knew would benefit from the outlet. He had just started discussing developing his own hockey program with his principal when he discovered HEROS.
With his skates and stick in-hand he went over to the rink one Tuesday 15 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. “There was Norm – bright smile and ready to go,” and the conversation between the two was short and simple, “‘Do you know how to play hockey?’ ‘Yup.’ ‘Go and coach those guys.’” Justin has been volunteering tirelessly at HEROS ever since, devoting his time and energy to the program. He’s aptly known as the “heart and soul of the Vancouver program,” being one of the longest running volunteers.
Justin believes investing in HEROS builds “confidence in the children” and provides a “sense of belonging,” and the impact goes far beyond the rink. HEROS’ presence has helped create a sense of community in every city it has a chapter. Justin explained that people from the community that don’t even have kids participating in HEROS come to watch the practices and games. It brings people out and “helps create a sense of community,” they see kids within their own community growing, developing and eventually giving back to HEROS in the same way.
A recent memorable moment that sticks out for Justin is seeing a young girl, who was having trouble connecting with her peers at school, spend a season with HEROS and absolutely flourish. “At the final skate, the mom was in tears, she was saying, ‘you don’t understand, she’s so proud. She’s so confident and it’s translated to school, it’s translated to home. She’s developing friendships,’” explained Justin. That’s one story of many Justin can think of that demonstrates the impact HEROS is having on youth in the community, “We come out here for the kids and we don’t really think about ourselves as volunteers. We just think about promoting hockey and promoting confidence with the kids.”
Justin cites the excellent leadership that Kevin and Norm show as motivation to continually raise the standard of effort he puts into the program. Recently, his commitment to HEROS was shown special appreciation by the Canucks, SportChek and the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program. Sven Baertschi of the Canucks brought Justin and fellow volunteer Mike Gage a bundle of gear to say thank you for their dedication. One to usually shy away from the camera you can check out a rare video of Justin and Mark receiving their well-deserved items at the Baertschi Charity Shopping Spree.
It’s volunteers like Justin who continue to have an impact on the kids in the program and also the community itself. HEROS is so thankful to have dedicated volunteer leaders like Justin helping our program to flourish.
Enjoy the new hockey gloves Justin!