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Change the Game: MLSE launches campaign to create equitable opportunities for youth

TORONTO — Tanya Mruck's workload just grew. And she couldn't be happier.

TORONTO — Tanya Mruck's workload just grew. And she couldn't be happier.

The MLSE Foundation, the charitable arm of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, pledged Friday to raise and invest more than $30 million over the next four years for a campaign called "Change the Game." It's designed "to help eliminate barriers facing thousands of youth, giving them more equitable opportunities to recognize and reach their potential."

Mruck, as executive director of the MLSE Foundation, is involved in both raising and spending that money.

"When you see this campaign, what's really special about it is it's not just saying 'You know kids have issues and we're going to help them.' It's acknowledging there are systemic barriers," she said in an interview. "These kids are born with a different starting line.

"So part of it is growing awareness of the issues and then invite people to join in our 'Change the Game' movement. So that creates awareness. Awareness, ultimately from a charitable perspective, creates revenue.

"And then what's really cool is we have all these established mechanisms to put this revenue back into the community, invest it wisely through our networks, through investment streams and make a difference. So we're asking folks to come along with us on the journey."

The MLSE Foundation, which launched in December 2009, has raised and invested more than $45 million into Ontario communities. Its vision is "harnessing the power of sport to change lives."

It does that by funding community programs, providing grants to other community organizations and though MLSE Launchpad, a 3,900-square-metre facility in inner-city Toronto that offers sports and support programs for youth.

Mruck says 80 percent of kids who use Launchpad are Black, Indigenous or persons of colour.

"We're not in the business of producing gold-medal champions," she said. "It would nice if one of the kids we worked with made it to a professional sports team, but we use sports as a tool, not as an endgame. As a means to create broader change."

Sport is used to teach life skills, create employment opportunities or help build mental health resiliency.

Now, the foundation looks to increase its programs to support "Black, Black-led and Black-serving" organizations.

"We're going to be intentional about these communities and we're going to put our money where our mouth is," added Mruck.

The foundation will continue to do other work in the community but with a "lens of equity, diversity and inclusion." A diversity director has already been hired.

The foundation raises money through donors, 50/50 draws and charitable events — with each contributing about a third. And Mruck is proud that it has not cut back on its investments during the pandemic.

She is a passionate advocate of her cause.

"My job is not about making the teams at MLSE look good. My job is to do real work in the community. And what's awesome now is with MLSE's commitment and the teams' commitment to changing the game and EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion), the platform we have and the ability to actually influence change is like exponential. And it's super-exciting.

"So it's not just the charitable arm on its own trying to do a good thing over here on its own, we've been embraced by the company. Every department meeting I have now, from ticket sales to food and beverage is 'How can we help? How can we be part of this?'"


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press