Five-year-old Brody Stafford is just beginning his soccer career and he's already off to a great start with his Timbits Maroon team.
He loves playing the game and in his first fundraising venture as part of the Prince George Youth Soccer Association's score-a-thon, he raised $585, more than any other kid. By the time he's 18 and ready to leave youth soccer behind, the sky's the limit on how much he'll have made a difference in improving the lives of less fortunate kids.
"We just put the word to everybody at home, because we're from [Prince] Rupert, that Brody needed to raise money and everybody started pitching in -- his grandparents in Newfoundland sent him a $50 cheque," said Brody's mom Lesley Stafford. "Having the money go back into the community is great."
Three local charitable organizations -- Prince George Special Olympics, Northern BC Friends of Children Society and Jumpstart -- were each presented $3,000 cheques Wednesday, the first recipients of charitable funds from the PGYSA's Club11, an organization formed two years ago to promote soccer.
The one-day score-a-thon during Soccer Fest in June at Rotary Field raised $13,000. The total number of goals scored by all youth teams in the city that day, more than 500, was used to determine how much was collected. Sponsors were given the option of either giving a set amount or donating so much per goal.
"The vision of having the athletes involved in fundraising really hits home with what Club11 is about," said director Mario Mastrioanni. "Club 11 was formed to have the athletes within PGYSA raise some money to link them into the community, so they can give back."
Half of Club11's fundraising activities go back to the PGYSA and half is given to groups that promote youth activities. The PGYSA set aside $4,000 of its share to purchase a soccer ball mascot costume to promote future PGYSA activities and earmarked the other $2,500 to top up the fund for the three chosen organizations so each would receive $3,000.
The money for Prince George Special Olympics was an unexpected bonus for Thom Ross, the organization's local co-ordinator, who oversees 140 athletes and 88 coaches and volunteers.
"It's huge," said Ross. "Because we're in the north, our biggest obstacle is travel. Our closest competitors are in Quesnel, an hour-and-a-half away, and it's not just a matter of hopping in a car and driving. You've got a entire team and equipment, so we're looking at buses to transport our athletes and coaches. When $3,000 lands in your lap, you can do so much with it."
The Northern BC Friends of Children Society helps on average between 15 and 20 local families each month. The society pays for medical equipment and will cover the food, accommodations and transportation costs for families who have to leave city for a child's medical care.
"This is huge for us, and what is really neat about this program is it's teaching these young people to give back to the community at a young age, " said the society's general manager, Kelly Sharp. "Every donation goes right to the families."
Jumpstart is set up to help families who can't afford to pay registration fees for organized sports activities for kids or to provide sports equipment. David Shuvera, general manager of the Prince George Canadian Tire store that sponsors Jumpstart, said all the money raised in Prince George stays in the city. So far this year, Jumpstart has helped nearly 600 kids participate in sports.
"It continues to grow every year and we're thrilled about that," said Shuvera. "We're mostly looking at entry-level kids who wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise. Last year we were able to put a hockey program together with Harwin elementary school and that was great because these were kids who weren't going to be able to apply to the minor hockey association. They are doing it through school and it's a really good feeling to see them on the ice and having fun."
The goal is to have Club11 projects raise $100,000 per year, said PGYSA executive director Len McNamara. The club is seeking new members to eventually organize a breakfast of champions with guest speakers which will highlight the club's fundraising efforts. New members of Club11 pay a $199 initiation fee and a $99 annual renewal fee. For more information call 250-564-5900.