The gym at Kitchener Community School in Regina's North Central neighbourhood is a hub of activity at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. About 25 kids in grades two to five fill the space, running, throwing and catching balls — in general having a raucous good time. They are here for the G.Y.M (Growing Young Movers) program. The program has been running for three years and has grown considerably over that time.
Brian Lewis, program coordinator, draws on more than 20 years of experience in physical education.
"A gymnasium or any movement centre can be a really positive place but it can also be a really negative place, it's all in how it's approached. We play a lot of things that are inclusive, everyone is involved."
Lewis said the program acts as a stepping stone to getting kids involved in organized sport.
"We just want them to appreciate movement and then get them involved in sport outside of our program. But having more skill development so they'll feel more comfortable about it."
Cole Keepness, 15, now works for the program as a mentor. When he's not helping with the G.Y.M program he's often playing sports himself.
"It keeps you busy, from getting involved in other things that wouldn't benefit your life, drinking, doing drugs, hanging out with the wrong crowd."
Keepness grew up in the neighbourhood and now goes to high school at nearby Martin Collegiate. He said he likes working with the younger kids because they see him as a role model.
"They can relate to me, maybe they can turn out to be involved in something like this when they are older."
The young participants crunch on carrots in a circle at the start of the session. It's a chance to eat a healthy snack, discuss their day and talk about any upcoming excursions. The high-school mentors sit side by side with the elementary kids, leading by example.
"When we first started they were pretty quiet, now they are high-fiving the kids, they know them by name, they are leading some of the activities," said Lewis.
Katreena Landry, 11, went to the program for two years before volunteering as a junior mentor. Landry, who now goes to Mother Teresa Middle School, said the program helped her make friends.
Jessica James also attends high school at Martin and comes back to help with the program. She said it's great for the kids to have something to do every week so they don't just "play video games and act like couch potatoes."
"I like to see kids have fun and seeing them meet other adults and get to know other people," said James.
Lewis is proud of the changes he's seen in the mentors, including one who started in high school and still comes back to volunteer even though she is now in university.
"She's mentioned it has helped her with her path forward and working with others and having to present in front of people and that sort of thing,' said Lewis.
Organizers said if the program continues to grow they may have to look at moving to a bigger space. Until then, new kids are welcome to pop by any Wednesday after school.