By Anthony Bonaparte
Growing up in Montreal’s Little Burgundy area, Trevor Williams had two things going for him — his perseverance and his basketball skills.
The latter landed him a basketball scholarship to an American university and a chance to play for the Canadian Olympic team. In the 1992 Tournament of the Americas, Williams played against such NBA stars as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing.
But he never forgot his roots and the kids that didn’t have that chance.
Back in Montreal that same year, Williams, with his childhood friend Dean Smith, started the Trevor Williams All-Star Basketball Academy. Ten years later, an expanded non-profit organization was formed — The Trevor Williams Kids Foundation (TWKF).
Aimed at inner-city kids, it would teach them life skills, help them stay in school, off the street and encourage them to give back to the community.
The idea came when Williams noticed problems reoccurring with some kids once basketball ended. “On the court they feel safe, comfortable and have no worries. But off the court they have to deal with peer pressure, bullying, and anger management,” says Williams, whose early life experiences helped him easily relate.
“I remember when I was young, these were the things that affected me and basketball was my safe haven.”
Today, in addition to running both the academy and the foundation, Williams, 44, coaches basketball at Dawson College and works at the Pearson Adult Career Centre as well as Sunshine Academy in Dollard des Ormeaux.
The foundation, targeted at kids aged 7-17, offers a series of programs called Zones, run by specialized supervisors. The Chill Zone, for example, deals with anger management; the SAM Zone (Sexuality, AIDS and Morality) helps teens understand the issues and make safer choices; while the Reading Zone — in collaboration with the Learning Association of Montreal — provides three weeks of intensive reading remediation combined with seven weeks at the summer basketball camp.
The Reading Zone, which this year starts on June 29, has the kids in class from 8-11 a.m. and on the court for the rest of the day. Williams says he has seen quite a few success stories over the six years since it’s begun.
One kid, who was in the program for three years, comes to mind. “When we first met him he was very shy and laid back, but the following year he was … animated and outspoken and you could see that his confidence had grown,” recounts Williams. “I asked him how he did in school and he said he did much better — and he could read now.”
Quebec’s high drop-out rate is an issue that should concern us, says Sheri Elefant, the foundation’s director of development and one of the organization’s founders, adding that too many kids are simply pushed through the public school system — including some with learning disabilities.
“We find kids that are in Grade 6 that are reading at the Grade 2 level,” she laments. “These are kids that are … going to graduate, go on to high school and they will drop out.”
The summer reading and basketball camp, which attracts between 100 and 150 kids every year and follows up with them throughout the school year, does not cost the kids a cent.
An annual Hoop Fest — a day-long basketball fundraising event held each spring that brings together individual kids, school teams and corporate sponsors — is one example of how the foundation collects money to cover the cost of programming and bursaries for kids to attend the summer camp.
“The kids have to go through a lot of screening and testing to identify the [reading] problem,” says Williams. “And the teachers are all specialists.”
Though the foundation has a core of devoted corporate sponsors, tough economic times has seen funding slow down, and Williams asks Montrealers to step up and give the kids a hand — something he received and learned from years ago in Little Burgundy.
“You have to learn to make a difference while you’re here, and whatever I can do that affects a kid’s life makes me feel like I’m contributing. And that makes me feel good about my life,” he says.
“If somebody can contribute financially to help another kid, or help somebody, they should feel good about themselves also.”
For more information, or to contribute to the Trevor Williams Kids Foundation, call 514-484-7696, email email@example.com, or visit www.twkf.com.