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June 12, 2019

O’Leary: Shaw Top Perfomers thrilled to donate $50K to youth charities

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

His move to the BC Lions was the biggest one of the CFL off-season. When it came time for Mike Reilly to make a charitable donation in his name through Shaw, he wanted to have just as big an impact.

“When I signed with BC, I knew that there was a lot of off-the-field stuff that I wanted to find out how to get involved with,” Reilly said.

“Whether it was in Edmonton or now in BC, I’ve always been very passionate about figuring out ways to be involved with youth. I’ve always enjoyed that. I think it’s very rewarding and I think having kids of my own now, that’s increased the importance of it.

“Something that I’ve also become pretty passionate about over the last couple of years is mental health. I think that’s something that’s become a little bit more mainstream to talk about…but there still is a really long way to go. When it came to my opportunity to pick a destination for this donation I wanted to find a way to combine those two elements, youth and mental health.”

RELATED: SHAW CELEBRATES WILDER, REILLY, BANKS WITH $50,000 DONATION TO CHILDREN’S CHARITIES

As the leading point-getter in Shaw’s weekly Top Performer contest for the 2018 CFL season, Reilly will donate $25,000 to Foundry. The group makes health and wellness care available to 12 to 24-year-olds across BC.

Reilly wants this cash injection to be the start of an ongoing relationship with the group.

“I want this to be a springboard. I want this to open a dialogue,” he said. “I wanted (the recipient) to be somewhere that I could actually go and have communication with and maybe turn it into a bigger partnership down the road.

“(Foundry) checked all those boxes that I wanted to accomplish. I think it’s an awesome foundation and I think it’s a great way to support the youth. They have online (resources), but they also have physical centres for these young people to go and get the help and support they need. That really seemed like a cool opportunity to me.”

In Hamilton, another quarterback had similar ideas with his charitable donation. Jeremiah Masoli finished second in points in 2018. With it, comes $15,000 that he’ll donate to McMaster Youth Movement.

Run by former Ticat John Williams, the McMaster Youth Movement uses Indigenous sport-based initiatives to ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and growth on Hamilton’s McMaster University campus and beyond.

“(Williams) told me about the stuff that he was doing for those kids and I was blown away by how big that program was and how much they get to help kids get involved with sports,” Masoli said.

“That’s what I’m all about, too. That’s one of the main reasons (for choosing the group). I knew one of the guys that was in charge and knew he was such a good dude. The money going there  will benefit people in a big way.”

Masoli has done a lot of work with his own Polynesian roots, doing clinics on football, goal setting and education. He’s also done similar work in El Salvador with Argos’ QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Masoli sees the opportunity to do similar work in Hamilton with the McMaster Youth Movement.

“(Working) with kids and sports are right up my alley,” he said. “Hopefully we can develop something moving forward and we could get some type of Ticat program or have the Ticats help out. Something to help bridge that connection.”

While Reilly and Masoli sought out a charity that met the criteria they were looking for, Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill instantly knew what he’d do with his donation. He was the third-place finisher in Shaw’s Top Performer contest last season, earning a $10,000 donation in his name. He chose Making Faces, a group that he’s been heavily involved with since 2015.

Making Faces helps children with facial differences and supports anti-bullying initiatives in schools and youth organizations through innovative workshops.

“I’m on the board and I also participate and help run the workshop groups that we do for the kids,” Bighill said.

“This is my main passion when it comes to charities because it’s something that I relate to so much, growing up with a facial difference. Being able to help these kids deal with the things that I went through and to help them build confidence and help them build the life skills and tools that they need is critical.”

Bighill grew up in the Seattle, Washington area without a group like Making Faces. He added though, that he was lucky to have a supportive family and school system around him and that sports helped him socially as he grew up.

Not all children are that fortunate. He’s seen the benefits of the workshop groups first-hand.

“When you come into a room and you meet these kids for the first time they’re all usually very shy. They don’t want to make very much eye contact, they don’t really project their voice,” Bighill said.

“By the time we finish the workshops, which are built around increasing all of those abilities, everybody is laughing, having fun, feeling open and comfortable. They’re making eye contact, being more confident in themselves.

“It lets them function more normally and feel more normal, feel like anybody else. They are like anybody else but oftentimes we growing up with a facial difference don’t feel like it.

“The whole purpose of these workshops is to make sure that by the end of them we’ve helped everyone understand that we’re no different than anybody else and that we can do anything we want. You just need to make these kids understand that.”

For all three of this year’s winners, there’s an excitement that comes with being able to make a substantial donation to a charity that means a lot to them.

Bighill wants to set up monthly workshops and train other people to lead them, so that he and Making Faces founder Michael Williams-Stark don’t have to be relied upon continually for them.

“It’s really about helping us expand our infrastructure and our reach and our ability to help kids,” he said.

“It feels awesome, honestly,” Masoli said.

“When I got the news I shared it with my wife and we were just kind of humbled, excited and thankful that this was even a thing. We’re thankful to Shaw that they’re doing that.

“It’s kind of motivating for this year as the season starts up. You don’t look for that stuff but those things come with team success. Hopefully someone from (the Ticats) can get that again and give back to the community over here.”

“It’s definitely humbling to be given the opportunity to pick a place based solely on going out and doing my job of playing football and trying to do it well,” Reilly said.

“It makes you realize as football players and as the Canadian Football League, we’re not just all about football. There’s a lot more to it and we’re kind of a part of the fabric of Canada and our local communities. We take a lot of pride in that and just trying to help people that are less fortunate.”