Local youth program ‘plays it smart’

Vern Kennedy, along with Liliana Dos Santos and a Centennial College volunteer, holds up the Play It Smart logo in his office.Vern Kennedy, a Scarborough resident and business teacher at Centennial College, has a big dream for local youngsters.

Kennedy is the creator of Play It Smart, a new tutoring program that aims to instil a love of learning and positive ideas in youths between the ages of seven and 13.

Play It Smart, a pilot project that started on Sep. 21, will offer 160 youngsters a mix of free tutoring and basketball practice every Sunday until April 2009 at Centennial’s Ashtonbee campus. The kids will also have the opportunity to play in a house league.

“Play It Smart intends to give [a chance to] the children who perhaps don’t have the opportunity to learn and play in such programs because they might not have the funds to pay,” said Kennedy, who was inspired by his friend, Claude Nembhard, to come up with the idea for the program.

“Claude has come from a disadvantaged background and managed to put himself through York University. He now has his own business, and he’s always given back to the communities that he’s lived in,” Kennedy explained.

Kennedy said he would like to set in motion a similar constructive mentality for the young participants of Play It Smart.

“While admittedly we are biting off a pretty big chunk in trying to resolve things, I think that the age group that we’re dealing with here is where these positive ideas can start,” he said.

Approximately 60 Centennial College student volunteers will be tutoring and coaching all participants from Grades 2 to 8.

A school bus picks up the youngsters from Malvern Town Centre at 9 a.m. every Sunday, and drops them off at Ashtonbee where they will get tutored in English, Math, and Science. After their tutoring sessions, the kids will get coached in basketball, and will then be returned to the shopping complex by bus around noon. Centennial volunteers will supervise the all of the bus rides.

“The volunteers can be important to these kids because many of them have also come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have risen above that,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he hopes the volunteers will serve as role models for the youngsters, and will make them recognize that the pursuit of a post-secondary education is realizable.

“These students will have an opportunity to be heroes to kids who desperately need heroes,” he said.

Liliana Dos Santos, a student in the police foundations program at Centennial College, has the challenging responsibility of recruiting the volunteers.

“I love doing volunteer work and helping the community. It’s just another great way to give back,” Dos Santos explained. “I do a lot of classroom visits, and post notices on Facebook and on MyCentennial.”

Dos Santos said she will be at the Ashtonbee campus every Sunday “not doing any specific job, but doing everything.”

She will also bring her 12-year-old brother who is enrolled in Play It Smart to try “to get him involved in the community, as well.”

Anyone who is interested in registering or finding out more information about Play It Smart is asked to call 416-289-5000, ext. 3273.