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Soccer team reaches out to youth in Attawapiskat

By Jean Ko Din
The Catholic Register

06/08/2016

TORONTO (CCN) — A Catholic high school soccer team from Toronto is using its passion for the game to make a difference in the lives of youth in the troubled Attawapiskat First Nations community in northern Ontario.

When the senior boys’ soccer team at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School first learned of the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat in April, its members saw a chance to help out the northern community.

The team is planning a one-week soccer camp for youth in the community that has seen dozens of youth attempt suicide in recent months.

“We saw all over the news that there was trouble there,” said Anthony Maceclo, a Grade 12 student and goalkeeper for the BMTM Royals. “We sat down as a team one day before one of our games, we had a meeting and we just came up with the idea why don’t we go up there and build some connections and help out a community that needs it more than us.”

Even though the team was preparing for its third consecutive trip to the Ontario Federation of Student Athletics Association (OFSAA) provincial finals in Kingsville, Ont., June 2-4, the team has done everything it can to make the camp a reality by the end of June.

“We’re giving out jerseys and our soccer equipment for donations. We’re asking for donations from everyone we can ask for,” said Camilo Blandon, a Grade 11 student and midfielder with the Royals.

The team is hoping to raise $25,000 toward running the camp for the youth in Attawapiskat. The money raised will pay for the team’s transportation, as well as new uniforms, shoes, nets, balls and other equipment they will need to run the camp.

In just two weeks, the team raised more than $10,000 toward its goal. On May 20, the team launched a GoFundMe.com page to try to raise money online as well. In less than two weeks, the page raised more than $3,000.

“The community has been fantastic and we’re really close to our target,” said head coach Paulo Pereira. “I mean, we have no words to describe the outpouring of generosity from the community.”

When Pereira first presented the idea of the soccer camp to the team, he didn’t know how the team was going to react. When he saw how excited the boys were about the idea, it was a pleasant surprise.

“They really surprised us, to be honest,” he said. “They were extremely excited and that made us coaches even more excited to do the fundraising and working to make this happen.”

Once Pereira knew the team was on board, he and his assistant coaches, Dan Romano and Christopher Bonnici, began sending out emails and making phone calls to the schools in Attawapiskat. It took about a month before they received a reply as Attawapiskat schools were on a break to hunt migrating geese to provide food over the summer months.

Eventually, the coaches got in contact with gym teacher Mandy Alvez from Vezina Secondary School, the town’s only high school.

“I just finalized the dates with them and they’re just so excited. . . . They can’t wait for us to come there,” said Pereira.

“The teachers at the school said it’s all they talk about.”

Pereira said his team is just as excited.

“Soccer is these kids’ passion and what better way to communicate than with what is close to your heart. It will be a tool to create really great relationships and doing what they know best,” he said.

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