"It's amazing, " said vice president of the organization, Mario Malouin. "It's been able to actually get kids to open up and tell their stories."
The program originally had 13 kids, now it's grown to over 80.
Moulin explains that some of the kids in the program have been a victim of bullying and for others, the goal is to learn not to be a bully or foster those negative experiences.
"Through football, we aim to promote sportsmanship, a competitive spirit, and self-respect," says the Bengals website.
In 2011, the Bengals partnered with the Dare 2 Dream Program, offered through the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO for the third consecutive year. The initiative is designed to give practical peer-mentoring and social networking skills to all youth in the competitive programs. But, the program is not closed to non-Bengals. In fact, Malouin says some parents have brought their children from a distance to participate when they learned about the program.
"We want as many people as possible to join," he says, noting that recently they've reached out to schools across the city to explain the program. "We want to be proactive. We all hear about bullying all the time, but we want to do something about it." Malouin says, so far, the message is getting across.
"It's helped me to open up," said teenager, Quinton Soares, who's been with the program since the beginning. Now he aids in mentoring the younger players. "It helps give them the edge and the confidence," said Soares. "Once the season starts it's all about performance."
Malouin says it's beneficial for the younger kids to learn about bullying from peers that they look up to. Older athletes act as mentors, running some of the drills and assisting in facilitating discussion.
Through a series of on-field trust exercise, which build trust between players, while offering physical fitness benefits, the goal is for youth to learn to support one another and work together for success outside their normal comfort zone. These on-field sessions are complemented with in-class discussions from coaches, parents, youth and guest speakers on the topic of bullying.
The courses which run every Saturday until the end of April from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. are available for kids aged 8 - 19 years old and for both boys and girls. Despite having to accommodate such a large age range, coach, Victor Tedondo said it's not difficult to organize activities for all. "We teach the basics of fundamental football," he said. "It doesn't matter how old you are, you always have to come back to the basics."
Due to a funding grant, the classes are offered free of charge. Moulin says it's not too late for anyone to join. "All they have to do is show up!" he said. "We'll take it from there."