2021 was a big year, which has us excited for the year ahead. Times are undoubtedly hard, but for us, focusing on the generosity of our incredible partners and the positive impacts they have on our communities is what inspires us to keep going. A great example of just such an impact is the story of one of our contributors, Annika Leslie.
Annika is an avid soccer player from Nova Scotia, who now plays collegiate soccer at the University of West Virginia. Soccer has had a huge role in her life. “I am so grateful for everything soccer has brought me,” Annika explains. “I feel lucky to have had so many amazing opportunities from playing sports and have had the pleasure of meeting and working with incredible teammates and coaches.
“I recognize how important sport is to youth and I know that it is not necessarily accessible to all, sometimes due to a lack of opportunity or financial strain. My hope is for all youth to have equal opportunity to play sports and hopefully I can have a small part in making that happen.”
Her desire and dedication to make a difference in the lives of youth by enabling them to play sports is what connected her with ISANS and our Community Connections program. ISANS’ Community Connections is designed to help immigrants integrate into their communities through activity, peer support, and recreation.
For recreation, we specifically offer support to government-assisted refugees, who often face significant barriers and challenges when integrating into their communities. Participating in sports has tremendous benefits for their physical and mental wellbeing, especially refugee youth and kids. Sports help them feel less isolated, while also giving them a chance to practice and learn language skills in fun, social, and even exhilarating ways.
In the summer of 2021, Annika contacted us to let us know she was collecting donations of new and gently used soccer gear from all over HRM and that she’d love our help distributing it to immigrant youth in need through our Community Connections program. We were thrilled! She began by writing a letter to share with all families in the soccer community, asking them to collect gear their kids no longer needed and bring it to a central location that, as she explains, “Soccer Nova Scotia graciously agreed to set up in their facility.”
Once the word was out, she recounts that “the response from the community was incredible!” Soccer clubs were “donating dozens of boxes of unused soccer gear, and donations [came in] from countless families. Even Halifax’s pro soccer team, the Wanderers, found a way to contribute, donating balls and keeper gloves.”
Incredibly, Annika collected over 4,000 pieces of gear overall, including soccer cleats, t-shirts, socks, hoodies, jackets, balls, keeper gloves, shin pads, and shorts. In total, 49 families and 252 immigrant youth in need benefited from these donations, receiving soccer gear for winter registrations, with more left over for spring.
To say we are immensely grateful for Annika and her initiative would be an understatement. While we can’t repay her for her generosity, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to her for putting the call out and coordinating these donations, and for the time and effort she, her family, and her friends spent sorting, tallying, and delivering the gear to ISANS.
We also give special thanks to Dartmouth Football Club (DFC), Suburban Football Club (SFC), the Halifax Wanderers, and the many families who donated gear; the club administrators of Halifax City Soccer Club, Halifax County Soccer Club, and Dunbrack Soccer Club for circulating Annika’s call for donations; and Soccer Nova Scotia for offering their facility as a drop-off point.
Amazing things are possible when communities come together, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2022!