Supporting community sports programs can enrich the lives of children and youth, providing them with a safe and healthy space to engage and grow. Improved mental and physical health and the development of leadership skills are just some of the many critical ways youth can benefit from sports.

To help children in local communities across Ontario thrive through sports, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and groups of local dairy farmers, known as Dairy Producer Committees (DPCs), invest in programs that encourage an active lifestyle, while honoring the value of community contribution and leadership.

Since 2020, DFO has donated over $381,500 to four bursary programs, which are awarded to youth in sport programs who show a commitment to leadership and community partners in these bursary programs include Ontario Soccer, Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OHMA) and Ontario Basketball Association (OBA). The bursaries range from $500 to $6,000. Ontario Soccer bursary supports furthering sports education and courses such as referee and coach training, while the other bursaries help recipients to put funding towards their post-secondary education.

A recent recipient of the OHA bursary in 2022, Drew Booker, plays for the Lasalle Vipers and is attending the University of Windsor with plans to become an engineer. Drew has been highly involved in training and mentoring young hockey players in his community.

“To give back to the community, I work with kids and teach them what I know about hockey, but they also teach me how to be a leader,” said Booker. “I do whatever I can to support my community the way they supported me when I was a kid.”

Similar to Drew, Jack Madden was a recipient of the OMHA bursary in 2023. He has a passion for helping people – whether it’s in the classroom, in the community or on his hockey team, it’s a trait that is noticed by everyone around him.

“His passion and his drive in everything that he does, whether it’s community activities or his academics or being engaged in the Napanee Academic Science Association sets Jack apart,” said his teacher, Jody Bensall.

DFO also partners with organizations such as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) to bring the value of sport to youth in communities with limited access to necessary resources. In 2023, DFO donated 5,000 Toronto Maple Leaf tickets to community youth groups, providing more access to hockey for young fans who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend a Maple Leafs game. DFO also partnered with MLSE and SickKids on a milk and cookie decorating initiative where kids spending their holidays in hospital were able to decorate cookies with Toronto Maple Leafs players and enjoy a game from a suite at Scotiabank Arena.

In 2022, DFO joined the Toronto Raptors and the City of Toronto to support the redevelopment of a basketball court for the Woolner Park community. Before revitalizing the court, youth in the community were consulted to ensure the final result would meet the needs of the community. On the day of the unveiling, youth were able to participate in a basketball clinic run by MLSE Foundation coaches, meet the Raptor, the team’s official mascot and receive delicious dairy treats. DFO’s donation of $250,000 helped to provide the neighborhood with a safe and healthy meeting place for exercise and activity. DFO came back to the community one year later and pledged an additional $20,000 in resources to provide long-lasting impact and hosted the second annual Choose to Shine day. Youth in the community had the opportunity to participate in raptors clinics, play organized basketball and watch professional dunkers in a competition. DFO also provided the youth with a nutritional, dairy forward breakfast and lunch.

At a grassroots level, local committees of dairy farmers regularly sponsor and support local youth sport leagues and tournaments, allowing youth in the community to come together through sport and learn the values of leadership, sportsmanship, and community.

Participation in sports has immense value to the overall health and well-being of youth. DFO seeks to nourish local communities by bringing the value of sport to the next generation of leaders who can build their leadership and teamwork skills while giving back to their communities.