Calgary’s Trellis Society clubs provide space for kids to just be kids

With support from a Communities ChooseWell grant, the Trellis Society replaced worn-out physical activity equipment at their community clubs in three Calgary neighbourhoods. As kids recover from months of disconnection during the pandemic, the new basketballs, hoops and scooters not only get them active, but help them develop skills in teamwork, cooperation and leadership that they take into their homes and communities.

By Anna Schmidt, 2023

In a corner of northwest Calgary, youth gather after school in a small gym. One of the kids connects their phone and starts playing music, the beat serving as a backdrop to bouncing basketballs.

“When certain songs come on, people will break out dancing. There’s moments when you’re like, ‘This could be in a movie,’ ” says Erin Henriksen-Ireland, the program manager at Bowness Club. “It’s people that usually don’t hang out, coming together and bonding over something they all enjoy.”

Bowness Club is one of five community clubs run by the Trellis Society for Community Impact, a Calgary-based organization that supports children, youth and families. The clubs provide a safe place for kids to gather after school and try activities that promote health and well-being, physical literacy, creative expression and leadership development.

The clubs are well-used — and up until recently, so was much of their physical activity equipment. Nets were falling off rims, basketballs had lost their grip and soccer balls were coming apart at the seams, says Erin.

“Kids here don’t always get the new, shiny things. We’re not in the wealthiest neighbourhoods. We needed money to replace those things because the kids deserve that,” she adds.

Erin reached out to her colleague Nikki Latimer, a development officer at Trellis. Nikki applied for a Communities ChooseWell Healthy Community Grant, and Trellis received $5,000 from ChooseWell to order new physical activity equipment, including basketball nets, sports balls and volleyball and badminton sets.

They also researched age-appropriate equipment to build physical literacy in their preschool program, and used grant funds to buy four-wheel scooters to help the three- and four-year-olds develop balance and core strength. Trellis distributed the equipment at three of their club locations — Bowness, Penbrooke and Pineridge.

Children are starting to reconnect again after the isolation of the pandemic, and the equipment not only gets them off their phones and physically active, but offers an outlet for social engagement and stress management, says Erin. “The kids were so excited to get the new equipment — it brought a lot of fun and laughter. It’s so cool to see kids just being kids.”

All three clubs that received the equipment are located in neighbourhoods with significantly higher poverty levels than Calgary’s city-wide average. Alongside increased unemployment and crime rates, these communities also have less safe play areas for children, making Trellis clubs vital spaces.

“The clubs become a familiar place for residents. It’s not just youth and family programming, it builds a sense of community,” says Nikki.

The physical activity equipment purchased through the ChooseWell grant benefits that broader community, as parents are invited in to play with their preschoolers and attend family nights. The Bowness Club also plans to share their space with other local organizations to make the most of the new equipment. 

“This grant money is game changing. It may sound simple in terms of replacing equipment, but there’s a long-term effect…Kids learn teamwork and cooperation and build friendships. All of that trickles down and gives them versatility and adaptability as they grow,” says Nicki. “We see it happening already. We’re exceptionally grateful.”