Castor: Building Community Capacity

Love and marriage brought Natasha Bozek to Castor, Alberta. When Master Corporal Mike Bozek left the military after a dozen years of service, he wanted to go home. With a master’s degree in physical education, and another in counseling, Natasha was a natural to take over the job as Castor’s Recreation Director in 2015.

Kids in Castor had few choices in recreation in the town. You could play baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. That was pretty much it. Bozek’s game was basketball, so she brought the Steve Nash Youth Basketball program to her husband’s hometown. Nash was a Canadian pro basketball player and his national program is designed “to develop fundamental skills, sportsmanship and a love of the game of basketball. “ Natasha also helped to re-vamp and re-invigorate soccer in Castor. Now, she says, “I think there’s more opportunity for kids to participate in activities, more than just ball and hockey. “

Castor won a Choosewell Healthy Community Award in 2017 which recognized the establishment of the Castor Community Network. The network was started with funding from Alberta Health Services but has since grown to include most of the movers and shakers who make any smaller community worthwhile: the people who always step up to volunteer, to contribute, and to organize.

The network has taken on the challenge to develop a community garden, set up an outdoor fitness park, enhance the hiking and biking trails in and around the town, and to polish Castor’s reputation as a place to live, work and play. Bozek, as a relative newcomer, is in a unique position to notice a difference in the buzz around town. She writes that everything happening in Castor is “…invoking conversation about our community, the great things we have to offer, as well as what our residents would like to see in our community.”

For her, it all came together at a fundraiser last winter. The arena in Castor is in desperate need of renovation, including a revamp of the concessions to allow them to serve better, healthier food. “We are serving the worst food to our athletes” says Natasha with some exasperation. “It doesn’t really make any sense, honestly!”

So on February 18 of 2018, the Toronto Maple Leaf Alumni team played the alumni of the Castor Cyclones. Natasha’s husband Mike was on the local team. Five hundred tickets were sold and 250 of those fans stuck around for the banquet that followed. The final score was 9 to 4 but organizers were delighted. The event raised $30,000. That’s a lot of money in a small town. The community spirit that permeated the event still makes Bozek smile. “Our arena has probably never been that full and the majority were people from our community. It has been the talk of the town since then.”

The arena renovation will start this spring.

By Anna Holtby (2017)