Basketball may be the hook that pulls youngsters into Friendship House in Prince Rupert, but it's only one of the many tools that long-standing community worker George Sampson and his staff use to help shape the young charges.
The tidy port city of Prince Rupert is set on one of those big islands abutting the B.C. coast and it is busy with new development and some say it's standing on the starting line of a brilliant future. To provide the youth who roar in the door at Friendship House with constructive life affirming direction, Sampson balances recreational activities like basketball with a lot of well-conceived, time-tested, and spiritually-founded programs.
The basketball program is something that works and is an undisputed success. Friendship House runs five 17 years and under programs, attracting youngsters from the community and schools. Parents lend their expertise to coaching.
Coaches are encouraged to keep an open mind when working with the kids. "We stay positive as they are coming through their childhood. Our Elders have taught us to bring patience into our programs," said Sampson, who hails from the nearby village of Lax W'Alaams, which is part of the Tsimshian Nation.
Friendship House has a diverse clientele with youth from grade 7 to university-aged, representing a variety of First Nations including Haida, Tsimshian, Tahltan, and Nisga'a.
Friendship House offers other activities such as theatre and acting, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities, which include a Rediscovery Camp each summer. The place offers a bunch of different ways to structure your time and pull some character out of it. Mentorship development helps pull character out of future leaders, providing them with direction and equipping them with skills.
But Friendship House isn't only about games and leisure. It's an example of the successful marriage of youth activity with the wisdom of Elders.
"Elderly people are our professors and they teach the important lessons. We use life skills to teach kids, and I work with Elders to impart honour, respect, and dignity," said Sampson, adding wistfully, "Our country lost a great piece of diversity. The people running the universities of the early 1900s should have taken our Elders into their world to learn the secrets of a sustainable world."
The teachings of those who embody Ayookw (the law) include everything from smoking fish to basic nutrition to obtaining medicines contained in the Pacific Northwest rain forests. These are teachings that have been known at the most understanding level by people who find strength in their ancestral roots.
Friendship House offers "love, support, and understanding. We work for those who have a yearning to be around people. It's about participating and getting an education in either the traditional or European way," said Sampson. "Some of the kids are pretty rough (but) our door is never closed to anyone.".
For more information visit www.friendshiphouse.ca.