THUNDER BAY — For a quarter of a century, PRO Kids has been helping connect local youth with recreational activities in Thunder Bay, youngsters whose families might otherwise not be able to afford the cost.
More than 27,000 placements have been made in the ensuring 25 years, said program coordinator Laura Daniele, originally hired as a part-time lead when PRO Kids was first launched in Thunder Bay in 1998.
“I think what’s really special is that because of PRO Kids, we empower the parents. The parents are now able to put their kids into activities when they didn’t think it was a possibility,” Daniele said on Tuesday, celebrating the anniversary at city hall.
“Then all of a sudden, through PRO Kids, it becomes a possibility. Kids have been able to gain skills on the ice or swimming, skills that are very important. They’ve learned how to be part of team. They’ve gained a lot of confidence and they’ve also shared their time with like-minded kids, kids who share the same point of interest with them.”
Daniele said one of the most satisfying reminders of the importance of the PRO Kids program is running into former participants, many now well into adulthood, and some with children of their own.
“Every now and then somebody will disclose to me that they were a PRO Kid when they were younger. It’s really nice to see that they’re successful and they’re doing well, and hopefully we had a small part of play in that,” Daniele said.
Melanie Tibishkogijig swears by the PRO Kids program. Her children and nieces and nephews benefited from it, and her grandchildren are also being helped to take part in recreational activities, including sports and arts related ones, through PRO Kids.
For a dozen years, Tibishkogijig was able to place her children in lacrosse, gymnastics, dance and hockey with the assistance of PRO Kids, which partners with local organizations and either covers some or all of the registration costs, or negotiates for free spaces in the program.
“Hockey is huge for my family,” she said. “My son is now over 20 years old and it helped him through his entire youth. My daughter started in IP1 with PRO Kids help and went on to play with Thunder Bay Women’s Hockey.”
More than 200 partners organizations have signed on to participate in the program.
That’s a far cry from 1998, Daniele said.
It was pretty new back then.
“I had to approach the partners, the different sports organizations and arts organizations, and I have to say, in some situations, there was a reluctance because they really couldn’t open the floodgates and allow all kids to join,” she said. “What was important to them was there was a screening process and that kids that accessed PRO Kids were eligible.”
To further celebrate 25 years in operation, PRO Kids will be holding a number of events in 2023, including a brunch to recognize activity partners and a masquerade gala scheduled for the fall.