TORONTO - It was a good day for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment COO Tom Anselmi. And an even better one for aboriginal youth in Ontario.
The company behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Marlies and Toronto FC donated $1 million to Right To Play's Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program, which partners with First Nations communities across Ontario.
"In Norwegian, we say 'Tusen takk,' which means a thousand thanks. But I have to say a million thanks," Johann Olav Koss, president and CEO of Right To Play, told an Air Canada Centre news conference Wednesday.
"This is an incredible, incredible day for us ... This is truly an incredible investment in the future of this country."
For Anselmi, it was a day to savour — seeing his company make a difference off the field of play.
"I love doing this," he said with a smile.
With the partnership, MLSE and the MLSE Foundation becomes PLAY's largest single private sector donor. Over the next three years, the investment is expected to increase the reach of the program by 25 per cent and boost its range to 45 Ontario First Nations communities and as many as 10 urban centres.
The PLAY program is committed to changing lives through the spirit and power of sports, helping train members of the community to change from within.
"Through PLAY, we witness new role models, ready to inspire and to lead the next generation," Koss said.
Organizers cited the Whitefish River First Nation, an Ojibway community located on Georgian Bay. Thanks to Right To Play and the PLAY program, the youth centre has been revitalized and kids have been re-engaged.
Since its launch three years ago, the MLSE Foundation (formerly knows as the MLSE Team Up Foundation) has invested $6.5 million into the community to refurbish more than 40 athletic and recreational facilities.
Anselmi called the Right To Play partnership "our most ambitious project to date."
"We're so privileged for what we do for a living," he said. "And with that privilege comes responsibility. And the responsibility that we have decided to exercise is how do we take these sports and these teams that kids love and use them to create a better life.
"And in this country, up in our northern communities, are some of the neediest conditions and neediest kids. It was just a natural for us and something we're rally proud to do. We're looking forward to the impact that it's going to have, because it can be dramatic and transformational and this country needs it."
In early April, 40 MLSE staff, coaches, executives and alumni will travel to Whitefish River First Nation, Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation and Mississauga #8 First Nation to host three days of "Sport For Development" clinics.
Koss may have laid the foundation for getting another million when he called the MLSE's Maple Leafs "the best team in the country."
"Well said," Anselmi interjected.
Koss said such teams are role models for kids.
"If they can see that the team is supporting them in their daily struggle and their opportunities, it just gives them that extra energy to try to be good in life," he added.
Toronto-based Right To Play has programs in 20 countries and says it has just passed the milestone number of one million children in its programs every week.
Its PLAY program was launched in 2010.