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New group aims to help kids thrive at sports, the arts

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Tara Jeffrey

Graham Holmes wants to make sure money isn’t a barrier for youth striving to reach their full potential.

“We just want to make sure all kids have the same opportunity to succeed in sports or the arts, regardless of their financial situation,” said the 28-year-old founder of Empower Play, a new, non-profit looking to raise its profile.

“The idea has been in my head for a few years now, and with people always saying ‘there’s nothing here for the youth’ I wanted to stick around and give back to my community.”

With the help of local company CCI Studios, Holmes formed a board of directors and established the organization last December. A launch party was held in April, and now it’s off and running.

“We want to become self-sufficient and provide services for the city, with proceeds coming back and going to the youth,” said Holmes. “We’re trying to reach as many people as we can, but we know it will take time.”

The objective is to host various skills camps and fundraisers, with proceeds to Empower Play to provide financial help to kids looking to play sports.

Unlike programs like Jumpstart, which provide funding primarily for house-league or entry level only, Empower Play will focus on competitive level sports, which can be extremely costly, Holmes said.

And rather than deal directly with families, Empower Play will seek requests from the leagues, organizations, schools and coaches.

“We ask that a team or association contact us about the athlete or artist that needs help, and we’ll talk with the coaches and teachers for a better idea of the financial situation,” said Holmes. “So, if a kid wants to play AAA hockey and the coach approaches us and says ‘this kid is good enough, he should really be here,’ we would discuss what we could do to either subsidize or cover the costs of that.”

The group, which is looking to establish relationships with leagues and associations across Sarnia-Lambton, recently partnering with the Sarnia Legionnaires to establish a free SAT prep program for players.

In the meantime, fundraising events are scheduled for the coming weeks, including “Battle for the Bay,” a two-day beach volleyball tournament at Stokes Bay, complete with live music, auctions and an after party Aug. 29 and 30.

The Empower Play Camps for Kids project also kicks off next month with “Insyte,” a theatre skills camp led by Dan White, from Aug. 17 to 21. About 25% of the camp’s capacity is reserved for youth needing financial help to participate, Holmes added.

“We’ve been getting some great feedback already,” he said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without the great support from the community.”

For more on Empower Play, including details about upcoming skills camps, and fundraising events, visit www.empower-play.com or contact [email protected].

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