Fifty excited kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Coast British Columbia-Langley Club (BGC) welcomed a special visitor Tuesday afternoon -- Langley native Brett Lawrie, who dropped by to help celebrate the grand opening of the new Jays Care Community Clubhouse.
"It's great to be back in my hometown and visit with kids from the Boys & Girls Club," said the Blue Jays third baseman. "I'm proud to see my team making a difference in the lives of kids on the West Coast."
This recreational space was made possible through a $250,000 Field of Dreams grant from Jays Care Foundation. Inspired by the look of the Blue Jays' clubhouse at Rogers Centre, the fully accessible club will serve more than 250 kids in the Douglas Park community each day -- twice the capacity of its original facility.
"The Blue Jays believe learning to play sports and participating in regular physical activity is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, gaining new experiences and making friends," said Rob Drynan, interim executive director of Jays Care Foundation. "We are pleased to meet a need in the Langley community and build these kids a Community Clubhouse to call their own."
Lawrie -- who was joined by Drynan and Carolyn Tuckwell, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Coast BC -- presented the club with a personally autographed jersey to hang in its new space, and he brought Blue Jays toques for each child.
The BGC youth, decked out in their Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League gear, showed off team spirit cheers to event attendees, and one of the Langley Club's youths co-emceed the event with Tuckwell.
The Langley Club wasn't the only BC club to receive a Blue Jays makeover in 2012. Earlier this year, the Surrey Club was awarded a $50,000 Field of Dreams grant so it, too, could build a Jays Care Community Clubhouse for 250 kids to play sports and interact with positive role models.
"Boys & Girls Clubs kids get the things they need most -- to be seen, heard and supported to pursue their aspirations," said Tuckwell. "With the help of Jays Care and the Toronto Blue Jays, that includes everything from an awesome clubhouse, the chance to play baseball and, perhaps most importantly, the knowledge that they are part of a community that cares about and believes in them."
The Blue Jays, through Jays Care, also supplied 12 Boys and Girls Clubs in Lower Mainland, BC with equipment, monetary grants and coaching support to run the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League in under-resourced communities. Through this grassroots initiative, more than 800 children across the province have been introduced to baseball.
Jays Care understands the importance of impacting kids, not just in Toronto, but across the country.
"As the charitable arm of Canada's only Major League Baseball team, Jays Care has made a strong commitment to serving children and youth in communities from coast to coast," said Drynan. "Our investments provide kids with safe places to be physically active, play baseball and learn the valuable life skills that come from being part of a team: cooperation, discipline, respect and responsibility."
Tuckwell has already seen the benefits of the Foundation's cross-country investment in the club and the positive impact this partnership will make on the lives of the kids in the Langley community.
"Boys & Girls Clubs are heavily reliant on support from the community to do our work. We are so excited and honoured that the 'community' extends all the way to Toronto, to Jays Care Foundation and the Toronto Blue Jays, because it speaks to our shared commitment to investing in children and youth, regardless of what neighbourhood they live in.
"This investment has an added, incredible impact: It tells the kids who belong to the Langley Boys & Girls Club that they are important, that they deserve a great place to call their own, and that there are people out there -- sometimes very far away -- who care about them enough to give them that place."
Rachel McKee is a contributor to MLB.com.