A true mentor: Sun Youth football coach dedicated to community service
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
Nicolas Perez played for Sun Youth as a child and now coaches the midget football team.