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Having a ball
It starts with one ball … dropping onto the hard gym floor at RayCam Community Center in East Vancouver. The basketball hits the floor with the distinctive “thunk” of rubber on laminated wood, and bounces high, back into an excited pair of nine-year-old hands.
Then another ball hits the floor, and another. Thunk, thunk. Thunk. Soon there are 32 basketballs and soccer balls bouncing all over the RayCam gym. The space is filled with the sound of balls being kicked, hitting the walls, balls being dribbled, baskets sunk, the screech of running shoes, as young Michael Jordans and Christine Sinclairs yell and punch the air. It is the raucous, cacophonous sound of joy. The noise of barely-contained pandemonium, and it makes Lisa Binkley smile.
It’s the sound of philanthropy.
Binkley and her partner Lisa Robison have just given away 32 balls to a bunch of neighbourhood kids, and they couldn’t be happier. “That went well,” said Binkley, a broad impish grin on her flush-red face.
Such a simple thing, a ball. The universal plaything. A toy that draws kids and adults alike; a round bag of air that exerts a strange magnetic pull, and a common response the world over … “Can I play?”
Binkley has heard more than her share of such plaintive requests over the last two years. Whenever she would walk over to shoot a few hoops at Stamps Landing – East Vancouver’s version of “the projects” – kids would appear out of nowhere, drawn to the sound of a bouncing ball, like bees to nectar. They would come out and stand around, and watch. Eventually the bravest one would be pushed forward to ask “Can we play?” Binkley would invariably nod and throw the ball in their direction.
“There’s lots of social problems at Stamps,” she says. “It’s a tough place to live. There’s drug dealing, prostitution. And not a lot for kids to do down here except hang out.”
“Driving around, I’d see them. Kids playing with nothing. I mean they had nothing. They’d be kicking around a stick, or this pathetic little tennis ball. I just found it tragic that these kids didn’t have things to play with, basic things like a ball.”
So she decided to do something about it.
“I heard about a small grants program funded by the Vancouver Foundation,” she said. “I applied, with a really simple, basic concept -- just buy a few balls and give them away --- and got a grant of $400!”
“So I phoned around to get the best prices. It’s funny … I thought I’d get about 100 balls for that. But good soccer balls and basketballs – ones that last – aren’t cheap.”
Binkley also wanted to buy from a local business. When someone suggested Abbies Sports Shop on Main, she called them up.
“Christophe [Collins] at Abbies was great,” she said. “He said he often gets involved with these kind of projects. He gave us a really good deal. We got 32 high-quality basketballs and soccer balls.”
Collins liked the idea because, as he puts it, “one ball can keep 20 kids off the street.”
“I remember as a kid being given a ball,” says Binkley. “I played with that ball for hours. It’s a kind of freedom. You’re away from the family, away from the stresses at school. These kids in particular … anything to help these kids with their life and make it a bit more fun. It’s also an incentive to be healthy, and be outside.”
Lisa Robison was deeply touched by the ball giveaway.
“This little girl was holding onto a soccer ball for dear life. And the smile on her face … that smile was almost as big as the ball … (Robison’s eyes tear up, and her voice chokes a little)
.. And her little face, she was so cute… and then she yells at the top of her lungs “Thanks ball ladies!” and runs out of the gym clutching her ball. That just made my day.”
Both Lisas can’t wait til next year, when they hope to do it all again.
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For more information on the Neighbourhood Small Grants program, visit the Vancouver Foundation’s website at www.vancouverfoundation.ca or call 604.688.2204.