How a group of school kids from Nunavut ended up in the Jays Care Community Clubhouse
When you come from a town of 715 - one that has no pavement, no restaurants, and not a single baseball diamond - taking your first steps inside Rogers Centre can be daunting. At capacity, Rogers Centre can hold more than 75 times the entire population of Hall Beach, Nunavut, a small DEW Line station nearly 160 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
When Janice Beardsley, a grade 5 teacher from the only school in Hall Beach brought a group of 11 students she had chaperoned to Toronto into Rogers Centre, they didn't exactly know what to make of it at first.
"This is just for baseball?" asked Inuuyak, 12, who had never ventured past the borders of Nunavut. "It's just so big!"
It was - for many on the 2,794 Km trip - the highlight of a week that had seen them take their first trip to a zoo, their first time seeing trees (Hall Beach sits above the tree-line), their first time on escalators and elevators, and their first meal in a restaurant.
"It's the ordinary things - things you or I take for granted - that these kids appreciate so much," said Beardsley. "Just being able to see a baseball game, it means so much to them."
Rogers Centre, the home of Canada's only Major League team, and the city in which it stands, could not be a greater contrast to the community in which these children grew up.
"It's very flat - there's gravel everywhere you look for miles - it's very gray," said Beardsley. "It's very cold. It's cool in the summer…there's 24 darkness for six weeks in the winter and six weeks of 24 light in the summer. We don't have pavement - even that was interesting to them."
As is the case with many remote communities, the youth of Hall Beach face unique obstacles towards their education and physical activity levels.
"They play outside a lot," continues Beardsley, "but in the winter time it's very hard. There's also a really high drop-out rate; it's a small community, so all the kids just run off and play because everyone knows each other. The kids just sort of wander freely and then come home when they want."
It was the fact that out of these harsh conditions, Beardsley found a group of, as she refers to them, "special kids," that she decided to put together the journey of a lifetime for them. Funding the journey, however, was a difficult task.
"We just weren't getting the funding we needed," explained Beardsley, "but the Toronto Star picked up on our story. After that, word of mouth began spreading and we ended up with enough funds in a very short period of time. It's a special group of kids, not every group of kids is one I would take to Toronto all the way from Nunavut."
The story of a small group of children from Hall Beach, Nunavut, eventually made its way to Rogers Communications, who reached out to staff at Jays Care. Within days, a special evening in the Jays Care Community Clubhouse was planned.
"I can't really tell you the sequence of how this all came about," said Beardsley. "But we knew it would be too amazing of an opportunity to pass up."
On the night of their trip to Rogers Centre, Jays Care also extended an invitation to Beyond 3:30, a Jays Care partner and organization that gives students between the ages of 11 and 14 a safe and welcoming place for sports and physical fitness, a nutritious meal, and homework support each school day. Beyond 3:30 representatives from D.A. Morrison Middle School joined the Hall Beach Group to act as ambassadors of Toronto, to engage in a cultural exchange with their counterparts from Nunavut and, most importantly, help cheer on the Blue Jays.
While in the Clubhouse, the kids were treated to ballpark fare, an unbeatable view of the game from the third-base line, a hit on the VideoBoard, and a visit from both ACE and Toronto Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez. Blue Jays ambassadors also provided the group with Jr. Jays fan packs, as well as temporary Blue Jays tattoos, bookmarks, pencils and hats. Beardsley herself left with tickets for her entire group to visit another Toronto attraction - the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, courtesy of a partnership between Ripley's and Jays Care.
"The [Jays Care Community Clubhouse] is very big," said Inuuyak. "It has so much stuff in it! I had so much fun here!"
"All these kids are big fans of the Blue Jays," said Beardsley, "we've been singing 'Ok Blue Jays' and screaming "Go Jays' all week! We're incredibly appreciative of Rogers, the Blue Jays and Jays Care for hosting us here."