Sometimes when people say, “You had to be there,” they’re not kidding.
Skipping, egg-and-spoon races, hula hoops and hopscotch at King and Bay, Toronto’s flinty financial heart!
Not only should you have been there, the Toronto Community Foundation wouldn’t have minded if you’d joined in — c’mon, put down that briefcase and pick up a spoon — with the flash-mob giving downtown a brief taste of Playing for Keeps.
Joining in, with the emphasis not on winning or losing, but having fun, is what it’s all about as the program gets under way this fall. More than 30 organizations are involved, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, YMCA and United Way.
Coming out of the recent Ontario Summer Games in Toronto and building toward the Pan-Am Games here in 2015, the idea is to channel that energy and enthusiasm into neighbourhoods all over the GTA, says Rahul Bhardwaj, head of the Toronto Community Foundation and chair of the Summer Games.
The Foundation puts out an annual Vital Signs Report on the city’s quality of life and what things need improvement.
Bhardwaj, who was vice-president of Toronto’s bid for the 2008 Olympics, believes some large sporting events, such as the Games themselves, can have moribund results. “I’m not sure the social legacy of bringing these games to big cities has always been fulfilled.”
He first got together with community, business and government leaders two years ago to discuss how multi-sport events could be used as a catalyst at the grassroots level.
The Vital Signs Report, he says, has shown a disturbing emergence of a divided city, with high-, low- and very-low-income neighbourhoods. “We’re also seeing a trend of diminished sense of belonging, particularly in young new members of the community.”
Hence the decision to “invite newcomers to Toronto, or to Canada, and turn them into hosts of the city. Pair them up with long-term residents and start this community-building process.”
Playing for Keeps, says Bhardwaj, “gives communities permission to play . . . to reach out to their neighbours, get to know each other and do things together.
“Let’s lower the temperature and say, ‘Hey, it’s just about play.’ ”
Medhat Mahdy, who heads the YMCA of Greater Toronto, says he likes the idea of putting fun back into physical activity. “Inactivity is a problem in the city and this helps address that.”
About 1,000 volunteers have undergone training at George Brown College, including Ashley Mamchur and Azfar Rizvi.
Mamchur, 29, an accountant with KPMG, hopes to get things going there in the spring with a lunch-time Frisbee tournament:
“We have a great courtyard space in our downtown office. “My profession is very technical and analytical. This pushes me outside my area.”
Rizvi, 33, came to Toronto from Pakistan less than a year ago. His background is in TV and film and he helped produce a video of the Neighbourhood Games flash-mob at King and Bay.
“We talked to a lot of people. They were very curious about what was happening,” he says. “Now, I’ve spoken with my neighbours around Don Mills and Sheppard Ave. and we’re hoping to put something together and encourage everyone to come up with a game that represents their culture.
“Hockey is a very popular game in India and Pakistan. Not on ice, but with a ball. It’s still people with sticks!”
Bhardwaj says the flash-mob “took the notion of play down to the centre of the universe, where play is not often spoken of. The look on people’s faces . . . suddenly, the inner child comes out. It’s remarkable how much happier they look and how they connect with people they’ve never met before.”
It’s inspiring to work with Azfar Rizvi, who is a leader in the Playing for Keeps http://playingforkeeps.ca/ movement to build healthier, more active and better connected communities. As a Playing for Keeps (P4K) Volunteer Ambassador, he plays an important communications role producing videos of P4K Neighbourhood Games and lends his expertise to the Playing for Keeps Advisory Group on communications and growing the volunteer base. He is putting his P4K and George Brown College leadership and community engagement training to great use and is making a difference in our communities.
– Rosalyn Morrison, Chair, Playing for Keeps Advisory Group
A website, playingforkeeps.ca, has been set up and Bhardwaj says participants will be encouraged to post videos of what they’re doing, so other people can riff off it.
“We don’t want to over-engineer this. It’s a movement people will be picking up on their own, whatever it is they do.”
So if you’re sitting on your porch and your neighbour comes out and suggests hopscotch, just say, “Your sidewalk or mine.”
Cross-posted from The Star
By – Bill Taylor – Special to the Star