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HomeSportsSoccerMontreal soccer program fosters community spirit in underprivileged Saint-Léonard youth

Montreal soccer program fosters community spirit in underprivileged Saint-Léonard youth

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Scores of children and teens in love with “the beautiful game” took to the soccer fields of Montreal’s Saint-Léonard borough today to show off their skills — free of charge.

The community group, Nous Faisons Ce Que Nous Pouvons (NSK), organized the games as part of its summer soccer program to help underprivileged youth stay active and positive through sport and steer clear of delinquency.

As of June 10, 160  kids registered between the ages of five and 17 have signed up, in large part due to funding from the federal government, financial services firm Desjardins, and the non-profit organization, Groupe 3737.

The founder and president of NSK, Johnley Pierre, says they’re prioritizing Saint-Léonard  because of the high rates of violence impacting youth in the borough.

“There’s so much demand from parents who don’t have the means to sign up their kids for soccer, but it’s also to combat juvenile delinquency, ” he said. “We need concrete programs in the community.”

Pierre says he has no doubts the soccer program will help cultivate the talent of the future. 

“With sports, you create riches. In five years, there will be a Lionel Messi and a Cristiano Ronaldo.”

Children play soccer in a field as two adults watch.
Johnley Pierre, left, founder and president of NSK, says it was important to get the games started in Saint-Léonard because of high demand for the sport and violence in the borough. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Sgt. Denis Perrier of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) watched on as the kids juggled and passed around soccer balls. As an ambassador for NSK, he says he wants to build trust with the community so kids do not fear police officers.

For many single parents — some of whom have several children and work multiple jobs to make ends meet — paying for sports is a major hurdle, he says. 

According to Perrier, offering kids the chance to positively engage with one another, free of charge, is a bargain for society as a whole.

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“Our coaches aren’t just here to teach how to play soccer, they’re also here to teach values, values for sharing and volunteering,” he said. 

Alexander Anroux Pierre was there with his three children, two of which—five and 12-years-old— were on the field. 

Children play soccer in a field.
Iyad Chbada, nine, usually plays soccer with his brother in the backyard, but today the pair swapped the garden for the soccer field. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Seeing a smile on his youngest son’s face as he makes new friends is worth the effort, says Pierre.

“It’s a great opportunity.”

He says it’s challenging for a family, no matter where they live in the city, to spend several hundred dollars— if not more— to sign their children up for league soccer or other organized sports. 

“We’re really here to help the kids find a path in the community here in Saint-Léonard,” he said. “Right now, to have a free activity for the kids is really great.”

Iyad Chbada, nine, usually plays the sport with his brother in the backyard of his parent’s home, but today the pair swapped the garden for a soccer field.

Meanwhile, Tristan Boisvert, 14, came from the neighbouring borough of Montréal-Nord to get in on the soccer action.

“I find it’s a good way of forming bonds with new people, and at the same time, get out of the house,” he said.

Children play soccer in a field.
(Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Demographic shift

According to Suzanne De Larochellière, councillor for Saint-Léonard West, the borough has experienced a demographic shift in the last decade. 

“We used to have a majority of seniors living here, but with recent immigration, we’ve seen many young people come in,” she said. 

While the borough has its share of outdoor grass soccer fields, the number of spaces available has not kept up with the number of children and adolescents who now call the borough home and are not involved in league soccer, says De Larochellière. 

She says the borough is looking to synthetic turf fields and other spaces to make the sport more accessible going forward.

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