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When Syrian refugees arrived in Ottawa around 2016, many settled in a neighbourhood called Carson Grove – an area in the city’s east end, just outside Vanier.

There are many adjustments required when moving to and settling in a new country. Other priorities come before accessing sports and recreational programs, but it is so important to get kids involved in this regard, to help them gain impactful life skills.

Christie Lake Kids, ON

In 2023, children ages six to 12 from this neighbourhood got a unique opportunity to participate in an up-and-coming sport, padel, at a state-of-the-art facility located in central Ottawa as part of a joint partnership between Christie Lake Kids and the Rideau Sports Centre. The padel program welcomed low-income and refugee children to try the sport, and broke down barriers they face to accessing a fun and new activity. While playing padel the children learned invaluable life skills such as sharing, listening, self regulation, working as a team etc. These skills will help to set them up for success doing sports and at school alike.

This opportunity was made possible thanks to funding from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association’s Reaching Each and Every One: A Community Sport Intervention program. This program, which was funded by Sport Canada’s Community Sport for All Initiative, seeks to remove barriers and increase sport participation rates for equity deserving groups across Canada.

“We worked with the community centre in Carson Grove to identify kids who would benefit from the program the most,” explains Natalie Benson, director of fundraising and communications for Christie Lake Kids. “We were able to alleviate some financial barriers these kids faced, and welcome a new group of kids that we might not have otherwise been able to work with.”

Christie Lake Kids is an Ottawa-based organization that offers sports and recreational programs free-of-charge to children and youth within the city’s priority neighbourhoods – which include communities that have higher than average community housing and lower socioeconomic status.

Benson says the funding meant that the organization could expand its services into a new community it hadn’t worked with before. It also introduced children to padel, which is a mix of racquetball and tennis, and is well-known in Europe.

Eight year-old Aiqiz, one of the padel participants, says she was excited to try the new sport.

“It taught me something new! And I love learning new things,” she says, adding that the opportunity helped her to connect with other children who live nearby. “I love padel, and I made new friends that live in my neighbourhood that I didn’t really know that well before.”

Christie Lake Kids was also able to provide transportation from the participant’s neighbourhood to the central sports facility where the padel court is one-of-a-kind in Ottawa.

Working with the padel program staff – as well as the bus driver – was a particular highlight for Aiqiz.

“I really like the staff that worked with me. They were so funny and always played with me. And our driver that brought us to programs always gave us yummy snacks and got us there safe,” she says.

Benson says these families also face major cost barriers to accessing sports. Many of the participants live in Ottawa Community Housing or low income equivalents, she says, and can’t afford to access recreational activities. The padel program was offered completely free-of-charge.

The children were coached by Daniel Alfredsson’s son Hugo. Daniel is not only a champion of the sport, but a community leader, and former captain of the Ottawa Senators.

Accessibility, mentorship and opportunity are the cornerstones of this unique program. When children and youth are supported to play sports and participate in recreational programs their future is brighter. This program is now a part of their story.