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Lottery winner gives sporting chance to youth

$500,000 donation to expand Ryerson Athletics camp, community and mentorship program means kids can do more than just imagine the benefits of organized sports
August 23, 2018
Rams Care Summer Camp

Photo: Ryerson student athlete talks with children at Rams Care Summer Camp. Photo Credit: Christian Bender/Ryerson Rams Athletics.

In Canada, one in three families cannot afford to enrol their children in sports. Jason Rinaldi, a Lotto 6/49 winner, is helping Toronto kids beat those odds. His support of Rams Care at Ryerson University will enable more kids from priority neighborhoods to participate in organized sports, connect to a mentor, and be inspired by the possibilities of post-secondary education.

“I’ve been involved in philanthropic initiatives since winning the lottery. It’s now coming up on the 10-year anniversary and I wanted to do something that was directed specifically at making an immediate change in the community and in young people’s lives - something that maybe didn’t have as much awareness around it as, say, cancer or heart disease, but was important in its own way,” says Rinaldi who won $35 million playing the lottery in 2008.

Rams Care, Ryerson Athletics’ community outreach program, engages Ryerson student athletes to offer a summer camp, after-school mentorship, and gives youth the opportunity to attend games and special events at the university. The impact is two-fold: children from underserved communities get a chance to learn and grow in an environment they may otherwise not be exposed to; and young men and women on Ryerson’s sports teams develop leadership skills, as well as a stronger sense of social responsibility and community mindedness.

“Sports span the gap, whether social, economic, cultural or otherwise,” says Jeff Giles, interim athletic director at Ryerson University. “We send our athletes into the community and they make a connection with the children. It gives them a well-rounded education and a chance to be role models. They inspire these kids to see what is possible.”

Gillian Rossi, a centre-back on the women’s soccer team at Ryerson, has experienced firsthand the difference Rams Care makes. An early childhood studies student entering her fourth year, Rossi recently ran two eight-week soccer programs for girls at the Toronto Boys and Girls Club, one of the program’s community partners. Her leadership role was inspired by an earlier experience volunteering with the organization when she noticed all the boys playing soccer while the girls stayed on the sidelines. She and a teammate decided to pick up a ball and display a few moves. Impressed, one of the girls asked if she could play goalie. Others joined and eventually all the girls were playing.

“We didn’t have to say anything, just play,” says Rossi, noting how the camp has afforded her the opportunity to meet kids from different backgrounds, different communities, with different experiences and challenges than she had growing up.

“It’s made me more empathetic and has given me a wider perspective, something I wouldn’t have achieved in the classroom,” she says. “It’s made me a better leader and will make me a better teacher.”

The camp reached 100 kids this year, leading Ryerson Athletics to set an ambitious goal to reach 500 kids next year. Rinaldi’s gift puts them on target. His hope is it will influence others to support the program and its further expansion into other areas like theatre, music and computer science.

"This gift is going to enable us to take the program to the next level,” says Giles. “We’ll be going out and working hard to match his generosity so we can bring even more kids to camp.”

“When you can see kids that don’t have much, smiling, laughing, seeing future possibilities, that’s what it is all about,” says Rinaldi.

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