The #BuckUp Campaign At A Glance
Now in its second year, Whitecaps FC’s #BuckUp for Mental Health campaign presented by Desjardins Insurance launched on May 19, 2015, and culminated at the ‘Caps match on May 30. On match day, fans were asked to “Buck Up” and donate $1 to show solidarity for homeless youth in Vancouver. With the help of their fans, Whitecaps FC raised $21,385 in support of Covenant House Vancouver.
“Sometimes things happen to us in life and we don’t feel like facing it. I had to face a lot of things in life,” says Ali Senyama in a solemn voice, eyes trained on his hands folded in his lap.
He remembers how six years ago, he and his siblings were forced to flee their home country Burundi due to political unrest. Life simply became unbearable, Ali says, and it got to a point where he was fearing for his survival.
“One time I was surrounded and had 17 guns pointing at my head. It was because I was wearing camouflage, so they thought I was a rebel in my hometown.”
As soon as Ali’s mother was approved as a sponsor, Ali and his family left Burundi for Canada.
On the one hand, life in Canada was a dream come true.
“One thing I can really remember about me being new here is how hungry I was. Oh my god. I put on 16 pounds. The first thing I had was pizza and chicken. Where I come from, we eat chicken twice a year.”
On the other hand, adjusting to a new country, a new language, and the pressure of having to be a father-figure to his five siblings, was overwhelming for the then 17-year old.
“A lot of things happened at home… I was a confused youth. I felt stuck and didn’t know where to go,” he says — until one of his friends gave him the phone number for Covenant House. Covenant House became Ali’s “second home away from the other home,” he says.
“They gave me a bed. They gave me shoes, food, a place to stay. But more than that… when you’re having difficulties, they lead you through how to solve it.”
Ali stayed with Covenant House on-and-off for two and a half years. He finished school, and has recently applied for a bachelor program.
All we want is freedom. Freedom comes without judgment and the people here welcome everybody without judgment. I went from a tough, rough life to ‘Hey, I’m walking now.’
Helping Street Youth By Boosting Their Confidence
Over 1,500 youth facing life challenges like Ali arrive at Covenant House every year. Many of them struggle with mental health issues, drug addiction, family problems and homelessness — often a combination of all four, says Covenant House Associate Manager Marty Staniforth.
A lot of young people that get to us are truly at the bottom. They have nowhere else to go. Otherwise they wouldn’t be here.
“The overall sense is ‘What’s the point?’, so that’s a huge mental block. What we do here is boost their confidence, so that that feeling diminishes.”
In addition to working with street youth on the ground, Covenant House offers a wide range of “as-needed” services: providing youth with food, clothing, a safe place to stay, and free counselling sessions — often assisted by Walter, the therapy dog.
Rec programs play a huge role in boosting kids’ confidence and overall wellness. And among Covenant House’s community, soccer is by far the most popular sport.
“Most kids were never enrolled in any kind of sport, let alone team sports, when they were younger. To see the connections that they’re making with each other, and the camaraderie on the field, that’s pretty spectacular,” Marty says.
Ali is one of the regulars on Covenant House’s soccer team. To him, soccer is more than just a game. It’s an essential part of his life and mental health.
Soccer doesn’t just make me happy. It’s like heaven. When I’m stressed, when I’m depressed, I’m going to do something to fight it. Soccer is like Ali versus Ali. Nothing is won, nothing is lost.
Bob Lenarduzzi: “Soccer Transcends Cultures”
Success stories like Ali’s make Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi grateful for the opportunity to “make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” he says. It’s also a reminder of the power of soccer being “a great equalizer” that transcends cultures across the world.
When Ali isn’t on the soccer field, he enjoys writing plays, short stories and poems. He shared one of his poems about his story and the campaign.
“A lot of the kids at Covenant House are immigrants. They are coming from elsewhere. Soccer is the biggest global sport, so there’s a natural connection. And it’s such an easy sport to get into. Anybody can play.”
With the #BuckUp campaign’s focus on mental health, Covenant House was a perfect fit, he says, as fostering mental wellness is one of the charity’s key goals. And with good reason: 60 to 70 percent of youth seeking help at Covenant House struggle with mental health issues.
“Being a teenager is kind of a crisis in itself and now imagine if you had to go through that on your own, living on the street, and how difficult it would be to maintain your mental wellness without the support of a family, or a healthy environment,” Marty says.
To have a partner like Whitecaps FC, which understands the importance of mental wellness and community building, is a huge asset for providing effective, holistic support to youth in need, he says.
“Working with the Whitecaps is a fund developer’s dream. It’s no secret that they are very involved in the community. They do a fantastic job of supporting a variety of charities out there and as a sports club, that makes them pretty unique.”
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