A true men­tor: Sun Youth foot­ball coach ded­i­cated to com­mu­nity ser­vice

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - MARK STACHIEW

Do­nat­ing money or food to a char­ity like Sun Youth doesn’t just feed a fam­ily for a day or help a child play sports for a sum­mer; it can pro­foundly change lives.

“It’s here at Sun Youth that I learned about com­mu­nity ser­vice and help­ing oth­ers,” said Ni­co­las Perez, a 40-year-old Mon­trealer who grew up play­ing sports at Sun Youth then went on to work around the world for char­i­ties Médecins Sans Fron­tières and Médecins du Monde, while still find­ing time to coach Sun Youth’s midget foot­ball team.

“In my school­ing, I started in fi­nance which re­ally had noth­ing to do with com­mu­nity ser­vice and help­ing oth­ers, but be­ing at Sun Youth, I al­ways had that at the back of my mind and I fell in love with help­ing oth­ers,” said Perez. “Re­ceiv­ing help as a youth and com­ing back to help oth­ers, that be­came in­stru­men­tal in my life be­cause I quit the fi­nan­cial world to join the hu­man­i­tar­ian field and Sun Youth has a lot to do with it.”

Perez grew up in the Plateau Mont-Royal neigh­bour­hood near Sun Youth’s head­quar­ters on rue St-Urbain. He played soc­cer, bas­ket­ball and foot­ball with Sun Youth from an early age, then went on to coach other kids, work at their sum­mer camps and help out in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s of­fices.

“Grow­ing up in the neigh­bour­hood, this was my sec­ond home. Ev­ery sum­mer, my sum­mer jobs were work­ing here at the day camp at the can­teen or, to­wards the end, in the of­fices here. All my way through to univer­sity, this has been the only place I worked at,” he said.

One of the peo­ple who was in­stru­men­tal in fos­ter­ing Perez’s pas­sion for help­ing oth­ers was Earl De La Per­ralle, who co-founded the Sun Youth or­ga­ni­za­tion along with Sid Stevens. Perez says that De La Per­ralle was like a fa­ther fig­ure to him grow­ing up and dis­pensed valu­able ad­vice that guided him dur­ing his for­ma­tive years.

De La Per­ralle re­mem­bers see­ing some­thing special in Perez when he was young and al­ways pushed him to suc­ceed.

“I told him he had to stay in school,” said De La Per­ralle. “The rea­son I used to harp on him, is that he had a fu­ture. He was very smart so you knew he was go­ing to do some­thing with his life that in­volved him us­ing his noo­dle.”

De La Per­ralle has pushed count­less other kids like Perez over the years to suc­ceed and be­lieves that the sports pro­grams run by Sun Youth are in­stru­men­tal in help­ing them stay out of trouble and be­come bet­ter peo­ple.

“With­out our sports pro­gram, God only knows where some of those young­sters would have ended up,” he said.

Sun Youth has al­ways stressed ed­u­ca­tion as the key to suc­cess, and that’s made tan­gi­ble in the main hall­way of their of­fices where the Sun Youth Wall of Fame fea­tures rows of photos of alumni who have played sports pro­fes­sion­ally or for univer­sity teams. Perez’s own photo is there from the time he played foot­ball for Con­cor­dia Univer­sity.

Now Perez is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of De La Per­ralle by dis­pens­ing ad­vice of his own to the chil­dren he coaches.

“We re­al­ize that we are men­tors to a lot of these kids,” said Perez. “We need to coach them and be strict with them, but at the same time we let them be kids. It’s a good place for them to be kids and the re­al­ity of the de­mo­graphic of some of those kids is it is one of the only places that they get to re­lax and en­joy them­selves. Some of the kids have a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity at a very young age back home.”

Perez thinks that Sun Youth’s goal to en­cour­age chil­dren to play sports and teach them about the im­por­tance of be­ing part of the com­mu­nity is a mis­sion that is more vi­tal than ever.

“Peo­ple re­late Sun Youth as a food bank to help the com­mu­nity, but re­ally Sun Youth started as a sports or­ga­ni­za­tion. It was re­ally a place for young teenagers in the neigh­bour­hood to get or­ga­nized and play sports. That’s how Sun Youth started. That essence stayed with Earl and Sid and it’s re­ally im­por­tant,” he said.

“It’s im­por­tant be­cause times are chang­ing. Peo­ple are more in front of their com­put­ers, more in front of their tablets and ev­ery­thing. Kids need a place where they can ac­tu­ally go back and play sports, play bas­ket­ball, play baseball, play foot­ball, what­ever it is, and Sun Youth has kept that idea. Yes, it is a com­mu­nity cen­tre that’s help­ing with food bas­kets and the dif­fer­ent ser­vices that we of­fer, but also a main part of it is the sports and re­cre­ation and it will al­ways be.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.sun­y­outhorg.com

PHOTO: VIN­CENZO D’ALTO

Ni­co­las Perez played for Sun Youth as a child and now coaches the midget foot­ball team.

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