'Dream brokers' make dreams come true for low-income families
Dream Broker program runs out of 18 schools in 5 cities, helps connect inner-city kids with sports and culture
A Saskatchewan program is helping inner-city kids have fun without financial limitations.
The people behind the concept seem like fairy godmothers, but they are actually known as "dream brokers." They aim to increase the number of inner-city children and youth who participate in sport, culture and recreation through the program, which was created by Sask Sport more than a decade ago.
The Dream Broker program now runs in 19 schools in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Yorkton and North Battleford, and partners with the public and Catholic school boards.
Stacey Laing became a dream broker eight years ago.
She works at Regina's Albert Community School, ensuring that children with financial barriers are able to participate in extracurricular activities.
"It's the best job ever. The smiles are the best thing," said Laing. "That's when you know kids are having a good time."
Every year, Laing helps about 300 kids at her school enrol in sports, art, music and cultural programs. She takes them to activities, buys them equipment and is responsible for applying for funding.
At Albert Community School, students are involved in basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, painting, equestrian activities, a chess club and learning guitar. Laing also created a drumming group, which was a request from a number of students.
"I mostly listen to the kids and what they want, and our kids are just craving culture right now, and trying to find that connection with their own culture," she said.
Maliki Scobie, 11, is one of the kids in the drumming group.
The Grade 6 student is also involved in basketball, archery and beading. His mother, Jennifer Scobie, says the beading is now "all he does" at home.
"I like it because that's what traditional First Nations people used to do," Maliki said. "I'm doing a headband right now. I like all the colours and how it feels in your hands."
This week, Laing got him a new pair of basketball shoes.
"She's been a great dream broker. I think any dream broker in the entire world is not as good as her, really," Maliki said.
Jennifer said the program means a stable schedule and a variety of activities for her son.
"To try and keep him in something is expensive, so I haven't been able to financially help him out that way as a single mother," she said. "So having the opportunity here to get involved is amazing."
Jennifer said her son was once a "troublemaker," but he's blossomed since joining the program.
"I'm super pumped," she said. "I've never seen him so excited to go to school and get involved in activities here."
Jennifer said she bought him a hand drum for Christmas and is happy to see him loving it.
"He's been performing at schools in front of big crowds and stuff like that. It's been really good for him and I think it will take him where he wants to go."
Maliki isn't even a teenager yet, but he already has aspirations to be on TV, and to become a musician and rapper.
Without program, 'I would be lost'
The Dream Broker program was created by Sask Sport, SaskCulture and Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association in 2006 as part of the Give Kids a Chance Charity, which aims to bridge the gap between children facing poverty and their peers.
According to Sask Sport, one in four children and youth in Saskatchewan live in poverty. It says children in core neighbourhoods are less likely to be physically active and participate in sport or recreational activities outside of school.
In order to sign up, students or their families can approach their school's dream broker. Parents then have to submit their income information. Help can be modified depending on what a family needs.
Laing said the program is now being used as a model internationally, and she's a firm believer that sports and other activities teach life skills and help kids be happy and confident.
If there was no dream broker, I think I would be lost. Really lost.- Maliki Scobie
She's seen the program pay off years down the road. She's had students she's enrolled in football go on to play for the University of Regina Rams, for example.
But the best part of her job, she said, is seeing the families get involved in the success of their little ones.
Maliki lights up when he talks about mastering new activities and playing with his friends. It's clear he feels the pride coming from his family in the stands as he scores another basket, helping his team earn a win.
He said the program gets a thumbs up from his household.
"My mom thinks great things, my grandma does, my grandpa does — everyone in my whole family, and my dog, Juliet," said Maliki.
"If there was no dream broker, I think I would be lost. Really lost."
- An earlier version of this story stated that the Dream Brokers program is in 18 schools in the province. In fact, the program is in 19 schools.Feb 21, 2019 9:39 AM CT