Jays Care Foundation works to improve local gym

Jays Care Foundation works to improve local gym

Jays Care Foundation works to improve local gym
TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays saw a need in the local community, and they came to the rescue.

In the heart of downtown Toronto, the Cabbagetown Youth Centre (CYC) has needed much rescuing in recent years. With the help of Jays Care Foundation, teaming up with the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) Team Up Foundation, the 40-year-old community center unveiled its new and improved gymnasium on Thursday morning.

When Danielle Bedasse, the executive director of the Jays Care Foundation, first stepped foot into the youth center, she and everyone with her knew that something had to be done to improve the surroundings.

"When we first came to visit, we were heartbroken by the conditions in which they were operating these programs, and [there was a] need for the community center to be revitalized so that these kids could have a safe place to play," Bedasse said. "It really inspired us to make an investment in Cabbagetown Youth Centre to help them improve their sports facilities, and to bring baseball and baseball programming to this community."

Jays Care provided CYC with a Field of Dreams capital grant, funding the installation of a new gymnasium roof, ceiling, electrical wiring, plumbing fixtures and pipes, insulation and paint, all necessities that the facility needed.

Michael Papathanasakis, a coordinator of youth programs at the center, still can't believe the conditions before the much-needed renovation.

"It's been crazy," Papathanasakis said. "I tore my ACL on this court playing with the youth. We've had tiles come up because of the water damage, and we've had a couple of accidents where kids are playing on the court. It's just due to the floor just falling apart slowly over the years.

"We have so many kids, that we have to keep the gym open no matter what happens. We would be playing in the gym with buckets out in the middle of the floor while the leaks were coming down. I remember one time we had four different buckets on the gym floor, but we had 45 or 50 youth in the community come, so we continued the game."

The youth center has been a valuable resource for many children and adolescents in the area. Denzel Brooks was a frequent participant in after-school basketball games and other activities at the facility before eventually becoming a youth mentor, returning and repaying the favor to the CYC.

"It was amazing just to have a place to go, especially the way I love the game of basketball," the 19-year-old Brooks said. "It was always good, because the gym was always open. Mike [Papathanasakis] opened the gym a lot, so it gave me a chance to come in and work on my skills, and he made sure that I made all my teams that I went out for. It meant a lot to me.

"And now for it to be redone and better for the kids, it's an even better opportunity for these kids to come in here and work on their game, have fun and be with their friends. It's amazing."

The MLSE Team Up Foundation funded the installation of the new gym floor, installation of backboards, Plexiglas and wall padding.

After the official unveiling of the new gymnasium, 40 students from Winchester Public School got the chance to participate in baseball and basketball skill development sessions with representatives from both organizations, as well as the official team mascots of the Blue Jays and the Toronto Raptors, Ace and Raptor. Jays Care donated baseball gloves and Team Up provided basketballs to supplement the facility's sports equipment inventory.

Bedasse is happy that the two local sports foundations could find common ground on which to work together to support athletics in the local community.

"We may seem like we're competitors," Bedasse said. "But really, when it comes to our community investment and our focus on providing opportunities for children in sports, and really the power of sport to change a kid's life, we're in agreement there.

"The partnership came about whereby we had funded the gymnasium, but they were looking for additional support for the flooring to put in a basketball court. There's one person to call in the city [for that], and that's Michael Bartlett at MLSE. So that partnership came about, and it's great. It's great to see all of our professional teams coming together to do something like this for one of our communities."

Bartlett, the executive director of the Team Up Foundation, was excited that the two charitable entities joined forces for the CYC cause.

"Something that we're proud of is that we're playing in the same game finally as the Jays Care Foundation," Bartlett said. "We compete in other sports certainly, not necessarily in baseball and in basketball.

"We're not always on the same team together, but being in the same sandbox today, being in the same gym today, says a lot about the spirit of power of sports in the city of Toronto. I think both organizations are a testament to why investing in the community is so important."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.