A contribution of $25K from the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation supports three streams of the growing community outreach arm of the Free2BMe program.
1. Multi week instructional group programs, on campus
2. Disability awareness and activity workshops at schools, conferences, or recreation centres
3. On site community based instructional group programs
The program was able to support over 200 children in activities on and off campus, engage 15 schools, and provide training to over 120 teachers and community leaders.
The Alberta School for the Deaf (ABSD) participates in the multi-week instructional program, bringing students to the University of Alberta Butterdome every week for sessions packed with activity and fun.
“This program has multiple benefits for our kids,” says Julie Russell, ABSD Occupational Therapist, who has been coming to the program over 2014-15. From learning to navigate the LRT as kids go to and from the program with their teachers, to building team skills and discovering individual strengths, she says the benefits are numerous, layered, and go beyond the obvious positive impact of developing physical literacy and healthy lifestyle habits.
For example, cultural difference is often an invisible, but significant barrier to social participation and engagement. Learning to transition from within a minority culture where the language, norms of communication and social engagement are different than the prevailing dominant culture is challenging—especially for children, who typically don’t want to stand out.
Travelling to the University campus as a group provides an opportunity for ABSD students participating in the program to build their own sense of community and culture, while also presenting an opportunity to overcome the challenges of transitioning between hearing and non-hearing cultures. “Learning to communicate with the TSC instructors, who are not fluent in ASL, learning how to find our way on the train and on campus, interacting with people, helps the kids to gain confidence and overcome their fears,” says Russell.
Alberta School for the Deaf, Deaf Special Needs Teacher, Ashlee Beyak provides further insight: “The Free2BME Cage setting provides the students with a safe place where they can learn how to interact with people who don't know ASL and then they are able to use that knowledge, confidence and skills to help them in the bigger world outside school. Also, the students gain confidence in themselves as they become teachers in a way. They teach the CAGE staff signs and show them a glimpse in what Deaf culture is."
It is rewarding for TSC staff to experience a taste of a culture where the expression of and attenuation to nuances of gesture (facial, hand and body) are the primary mode of communication. It is also a valuable exposure for Adapted Physical Activity consultants who must learn to be attentive to body language to work with the diverse needs and abilities of their clients.
Free2BMe is well known for changing things up, presenting new activities each week, like squash, or Tchoukball; active team-building activities that provide opportunities for each child to shine, and providing kids with opportunities to learn new skills in new ways. “Every new environment or activity gives our kids an opportunity to find out what their passion is—or isn’t. It’s great for us to see those moments when someone can excel, but it’s also just as important for kids to learn to identify what they don’t like.”
Free2BMe Adapted Physical Activity consultants are trained to be creatively responsive to group and to individual needs. “Our kids have a wide range of abilities, and so, it’s wonderful for them to have physical activity strategies that work for their individual needs,” says Russell. Russell also says that the teachers learn excellent tools and strategies to take back to ABSD.
“One of the best things about the program is the transferability of the skills and experiences,” says Russell. “For example, kids learn to work in teams, which can be translated to other group situations in school and life.” Leadership, focus, goal setting, openness to new experiences, are just a few of the transferable skills that engagement in Free2BMe program and physical activity provides.
“As an OT, bringing kids to the program, I have access to the Free2BMe resources that I can take back and use with my colleagues,” says Russell, holding up a set of Move and Play the Inclusive Way, resource cards.
Opportunities for diverse experiences, leadership, physical literacy and skills, culture building and awareness are just a few of the many layers of benefits of participating in Free2BMe community outreach programs. “The ABSD has been participating in Free2BMe programs for almost as long as we’ve existed,”says Free2BMe Team Lead Amanda Ebert.
“The support of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation has given us the opportunity to continue to create excellent programs, and provide value to children, teachers, families and professionals within the greater Edmonton region.” Free2BMe turns 10 this year and hopes to expand the impact of its impact. The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation has provided support for this program a second year, helping Free2BMe to continue to grow.