Elizabeth (not her real name) would not be able to afford to keep her kids enrolled in karate without the support of a program that's helped many families like her own in St. John's over the last 17 years.
"It's a good opportunity to get them to interact with other kids and just be out. … It brings up their self-esteem and everything," she told The Telegram.
The REAL Program, which maintains strict confidentiality parameters to protect the identity of its young participants, is a City of St. John's initiative. Its goal is to get children and youth 18 years old and younger from low-income families involved in recreational activities and performing arts programs without having to pay for fees or equipment.
Two city employees handle administrative duties, but otherwise the program relies on donations from individuals and community partners, both monetary and in-kind.
The city is encouraging residents to support the program through a holiday-themed campaign called the "Gift of Play." The cost to provide program or class space for one child is approximately $100. REAL also accepts equipment donations. Last year's campaign allowed 22 children and youth to participate in the program. Right now, it has 1,460 children and youth placed in St. John's, with approximately 30,000 helped since REAL’s inception in 2002.
Elizabeth is a single mom with four kids, and they've all made use of the REAL Program. She learned about it through an advertisement posted at her local recreation centre.
"I just called and asked about it, and my kids have now been in it for about six years," she said.
One child learned to get over a fear of water through swimming lessons with support from the program, and Elizabeth's oldest child used to play soccer through REAL.
Elizabeth now has three children enrolled in karate, and it has been a good for each of them in unique ways, she says. One child has dealt with low self-esteem as a result of being picked on by others. Elizabeth's youngest is small for her age, while another child has at times struggled with his temper.
"They knew how to push his buttons, so I put him in it to learn how to control himself, and it has been wonderful," Elizabeth said.
Beyond allowing her children to have opportunities they otherwise would not have, Elizabeth also gives credit to the REAL Program for having great people working behind the scenes.
"The people there are just so fun and generous — you couldn't ask for anything better," she said. "If you need transportation, they'll help pay for it with a bus pass or a taxi. All the equipment is included."
In addition to the current holiday donation drive, REAL is looking for members to create a fundraising steering committee. Interested individuals can call 576-8684 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
How to donate
• Online with a city RECconnect account at www.stjohns.ca/real
• By calling 576-8684
• In person at the H.G.R. Mews Community Centre, Paul Reynolds Community Centre or Access St. John’s at city hall.