Ear-to-ear grins, shrieking laughter, cartwheels and high fives—these were just a few signs that young Winnipeggers were having an unforgettable day.
Nearly 600 Winnipeg kids eagerly packed Sinclair Park Community Centre last Thursday for the annual Jumpstart Games, hosted by BGC Winnipeg*—a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency—and the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities.
The event celebrates the kids’ participation in Community School Investigators (CSI)—a free, five-week summer learning program infused with educational, cultural, and recreational activities.
BGC Winnipeg, in partnership with Winnipeg School Division, facilitates CSI and caring United Way Winnipeg donors help fund it.
The Jumpstart Games mark the winding down of CSI, bringing together youth from all 12 inner-city learning sites for a full, action-packed day that removes financial and accessibility barriers to sports and recreation.
“I really like seeing the kids smile and enjoy themselves,” said 13-year-old Alanna. She joined CSI when she was 9 and is now a junior volunteer with the program.
During the summer, kids are at risk of losing some of the progress they’ve made over the course of the school year. But after four years of being a CSI student, Alanna said the program helped her maintain momentum with her math, reading, and writing skills.
“I especially struggled with math before,” she said, “but CSI helped a lot with my math skills.”
Alanna is heading into grade 9 this fall with gusto, ready to learn and excel.
Being a volunteer with CSI and Jumpstart Games is a confidence boost for Alanna, too. She said it’s a great way to grow as a leader and connect with peers from across the city.
“I’ve made a TON of new friends,” she gushed.
Her friend and fellow volunteer, 14-year-old Dean, agreed. He was a CSI student for five years and echoed what a difference the program made with growing academically and socially.
As students, both Alanna and Dean’s favourite part of Jumpstart Games was the small village of bouncy houses and the racing games. Now as volunteers, their job is to make sure kids are safe, engaged, and having a fantastic experience—which is what the event is all about.
“Jumpstart Games is not only a chance to get active,” said Glenn McLean, the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities Regional Manager for Central Canada.
“It’s an opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills—and of course, have lots of fun.”
Kids representing 14 schools rotate between a dozen stations scattered across an open field, where they can join in fitness challenges and fun activities, improve physical literacy, connect with peers, and fuel up with a delicious lunch and refreshments.
Rochelle Squires, Manitoba’s Minister of Families, also attended the event and shared a few words at the opening ceremony on behalf of the Province.
“The best part of my job is to be with kids,” she said, “and working with some of the amazing partners in our community, like BGC.”
“They see the community they’re part of and the vibrancy of the city they live in.”
At clubs nestled in neighbourhoods across the city, BGC Winnipeg offers youth safe, inclusive environments to find belonging, overcome barriers, develop confidence, and grow life skills.
CSI is one arm of BGC’s mission, cultivating a welcoming and supportive space for kids to combat summer learning loss and narrow the opportunity gap that often exists within after-school and recreational programming.
Because summer experiences are often out of reach for lower income families, CSI and United Way Winnipeg donors help level the playing field by making the program free and open to all abilities, so everyone can participate.
And never is that feeling of inclusion and diversity felt stronger than at the Jumpstart Games.
“Jumpstart gives students a sense of solidarity and unity with all of our CSI sites being present,” said Kate Cove, BGC’s Manager of Education Programs.
“It’s such a great opportunity for kids to make new friends outside of their classrooms.”
For young Winnipeggers who have been pen pals with fellow CSI members at different schools the past several weeks, the event is also a meaningful chance for them to finally meet in person.
“Today, the youth see they’re part of something bigger,” said Kate. “They see the community they’re part of and the vibrancy of the city they live in.”
44% of Canadian families say they can’t afford to enrol their kids in organized sports.
Beyond the academic focus of CSI, BGC deeply understands how sports positively contribute to the health and development of kids—and the challenges that come with accessing them.
While youth sports are bouncing back in the wake of the pandemic, the rising cost of living presents a huge barrier for many Winnipeg families.
In a recent survey, the majority of parents agree organized sports offer an important experience for their kids—but 44% of families can’t afford it.
“I really want to register my children in organized sports programming, especially on the weekend for their mental health and well-being,” said one parent, “but I can’t due to the prices.”
When families don’t have equitable access to sports and recreational activities, kids pay the price. About 4 in 10 parents and caregivers say their children are less physically fit and experience more anxiety because of reduced participation in sports and play.
Because sports aren’t just about kids strengthening their bodies—it’s good for their brains, mental health, and social connectedness, too.
Whether competitive or just for fun, sports are a pathway to developing fundamental life skills—like leadership, teamwork, and accountability—which are vital for youth as they develop their identities and grow as social beings.
That’s why, in addition to the Jumpstart Games, CSI invites kids of all abilities and socioeconomic statuses to participate in free recreational opportunities every day.
Following a morning of learning and exercising their brains, CSI members spend all afternoon moving their bodies—playing sports like soccer or participating in interactive cultural experiences.
Outside of CSI, members of BGC can join other recreation programs promoting physical fitness, interpersonal skills, and positive use of leisure time—a game-changer in the digital age.
At programs like SportsConnection, BGC members gain confidence by exploring new sports and gradually transition from informal to organized play, guided by caring mentors offering skills-based instruction.
All of these programs are possible because of the help of generous United Way Winnipeg donors who want to make sure no child is left behind.
“For more than 40 years, we’ve depended on and been bolstered on United Way funding,” explained Ron Brown, President and CEO of BGC Winnipeg.
“It has been the most stabilizing organization to support us in all of those years. Without the United Way, BGC wouldn’t exist.”
*BGC Winnipeg, a leading youth-serving agency, connects children and youth in vulnerable neighbourhoods with free, quality, life-changing programming that fosters healthy living and offers a safe alternative to the streets during evenings and after-school hours.