The Y and John Walker’s Field of Dreams Foundation (JWFODF) have joined forces to make a positive impact on deserving tamariki. The partnership aims to provide children in need with the opportunity to experience the joy of getting out and getting active. And we have just found out we are finalists in the NZ Sport and Recreation Awards for the epic mahi tahi we are doing to encourage and empower our tamariki.

Our Sports Camps are a world of boundless energy, talent, and unbridled enthusiasm. Where sweat, graft, and toil become badges of honour, and where trying, losing, failing, and learning are not just accepted, but celebrated.

The Sports Camp programme invites pupils from Auckland South Intermediate Schools to Camp Adair in the Hunua Ranges to participate in a range of sports, including traditional and new sporting codes such as Basketball, Netball, Rugby, League, Soccer, Ki o rahi, Lacrosse and more. A highlight is our very own confidence course (the intrepid students who conquered the shallow river run in the rain on the first day should be absolutely commended!). The camps provide students with an opportunity to play sports they would not normally participate in, and to bond with others through active recreation.

Playing and participating in sporting tournaments in intermediate school is a key time for tamariki to gain valuable experience - not just in sporting skills and confidence, but also in teamwork, competing, and gaining independence by being away from home. However, for many schools the cost of attending a Sports Camp is prohibitive and consequently, many students miss out on this opportunity.

Out of this dilemma, our partnership had the idea to host a tournament, focusing on children from South Auckland schools. The 2022 event ran for three weeks, with each school staying and competing for a week. The tournament was run with an enormous amount of support from funders and donations, meaning that we were able to include all the cost of the tournament - accommodation, food, equipment, refereeing and staff support, at minimal or even no cost to the families.

Through mahi tahi with schools, clubs, sponsors, and organisations in the community, we are building greater social cohesion and community pride and turning around some of the negative stereotypes associated with Auckland’s areas of greatest need. We are determined to make a difference.

And the success of our 2022 Sports Camp attests to it working. Despite pouring rain, nothing could dampen the smiles, joy, and enthusiasm of the students from nine South Auckland schools who attended the opening of the inaugural John Walker Find your Field of Dreams Intermediate Sports Camps.

960 tamariki and rangatahi, who would have otherwise missed out on similar opportunities to participate in sports, accessed 8640 different sporting experiences and developed a range of new physical competencies at the 2022 Sports Camp.

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, school communities and partners. The encouraging response from participating schools has inspired other schools to take part and sign up, increasing the reach far beyond South Auckland, including to a school in the Cook Islands, who heard about the programme from children visiting their families in Rarotonga and sharing their stories. We have already signed up 10 additional schools for 2023. Our main change moving forward will be to reach even more schools. We currently have 35 schools confirmed to attend 4 sports camps in 2023 (1,280 tamariki & rangatahi).

The benefits of active recreation and engagement for our young people are multiple; creating social cohesion, building active citizenship, encouraging leadership and teamwork, inspiring confidence and self-belief, modelling resilience and determination, and developing skills on the sports field and in life that will serve participants throughout their lives.

Sports Camps can act as a catalyst in enhancing psychological attributes including hope, self-efficacy, self-esteem, enhanced hauora, community connectedness, whanaungatanga, happiness, and psychological wellbeing in camp participants. Particularly resonant are the skills and traits gained by our vulnerable young people who have faced upheaval and challenges unlike any we have known. 😊 Feedback from the participating boys and girls tells us they had a blast at camp and loved trying new sports.

• “I got to meet people from different schools and learned new games that I can teach my family members. Being at Sports Camp also changed the way I play- I loved how there are no devices, which was really cool and got us to be outside and explore the outdoors and have fresh air.”

• “I like that it is fun, and it is cool to learn new sports you haven't tried, I love to work together as a team.”

Akonga/Teachers let us know how engaging and inclusive the event had been, with the large number and variety of sports available a key factor in the success of the Camp.

“The range of sports was outstanding and catered for all our students.”

“They were exposed to a different type of sports such as Archery and Ki-o-rahi. Our school were lucky enough to have a rich cultural experience too.”

“There was something for everyone - we have students that are not as 'sporty' but want to take part with their peers. It was great that there were other options offered.”

Enthusiasm and engagement around sport at our participating schools has directly grown because of the Sports Camps.

“There is much more enthusiasm around the school for sports and getting involved in sports. Not just amongst the students, but also the teachers who would like to step up and be involved.”

“It has generated a buzz in that we had 250+ students wanting to join sports academy this year....”

We had anticipated a range of positive outcomes from the project – increased physical literacy, improved access to sports for high deprivation communities, and inspiring love for sports were, after all, the purpose of the project. However, the positive benefits went much further. One added benefit was the way the participants related to each other across the school groups, and within their teams. Relationship building was a major outcome of this project.

• “What I liked about camp is that you can make new friends from different schools and play activities that are really fun.”

• I liked how I was able to interact with people from different schools and I also enjoyed playing different sports.

• “The fact that we got to interact with other schools and that we got to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and also the vibe/bond we got to make with people from other schools.”

We aim to ensure that young people, especially those from vulnerable groups, benefit from the better outcomes, employment prospects, community ties, expansive opportunities, increased chances for curiosity and adventure, and better mental health that are associated with doing sport and keeping active. We are delighted that we were finally able to bring this dream to life and set so many children on the path to realizing their own dreams.

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari kē he toa takitini
My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, it was not individual success but the success of a collective.

Without the meaningful support of our funders, we wouldn't be able to make this happen. Big thanks go to John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams Foundation, Potter Masonic Lodge, CLM Community Sport, Four Winds Foundation, Grassroots Trust, Newman's Own Foundation, Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board, Papakura Local Board, Manurewa Local Board, and Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board.

This programme is making a real difference in people's lives, and we are grateful to be part of such an amazing initiative.