If you go to any KidsPlay Foundation event in Surrey, you are likely to see Nausheen Dhanda.
She wears many hats, including youth program co-ordinator, with the organization in Surrey whose mission is keeping kids away from drugs and gangs.
Nausheen, a Grade 11 student, grew up in Surrey and first became involved with KidsPlay when volunteers came to her elementary school. Every Friday after school, KidsPlay taught her karate and kickboxing. She was also mentored by a KidsPlay volunteer.
Nausheen said she noticed how committed the volunteers were, showing up week in and week out.
“They engaged with us, made us feel like we were like a part of something,” she said. “It just put me onto this road where I wanted to make myself do more, rather than just sit here with the crowd.”
She did just that. Nausheen spends a lot of her free time volunteering with KidsPlay and manages their social media, takes calls, responds to emails and helps plan events.
Nausheen attends Tamanawis Secondary school in Newton, where a stabbing took the life of 18-year-old Mehakpreet Sethi on Nov. 22. Not wanting to see another youth fall victim to violence, she decided to be part of the change. She approached KidsPlay to help organize a forum.
With the foundation’s help, Nausheen organized a drug and gang forum at Taj Park Convention Centre on Dec. 12. The forum aimed to educate young people and their families about the dangers of drugs and gangs and featured keynote speakers and youth who have been impacted by them.
“These things keep adding up, like the violence fights,” she said, adding that gang life is often glorified, as is the desire to be more powerful.
“So that’s why I wanted to try to put myself into a position that I can try to help bring awareness to that. And that was through the drug and gang forum.”
Nausheen, who said her time with KidsPlay taught her key leadership and communication skills, said she was “blown away” by the forum’s turnout and hopes families continued the conversation at home about drug use and violence.
KidsPlay was founded in 2015 by Kal Dosanjh, a Vancouver police officer who spent 15 years of his career on patrol in the Downtown Eastside. During that time, he saw many kids that came from underprivileged backgrounds that were not afforded the same opportunities as kids elsewhere in the city.
Dosanjh said that these kids were becoming a byproduct of their environment and were on the trajectory to follow in the footsteps of those around them. He recalled often apprehending these kids in open-air drug markets all the time. The kids would be charged and sentenced by the courts and enter the criminal justice system only to come out harder and more likely to be a repeat offender.
Dosanjh said it created a perpetual cycle of violence back on the streets.
“We’re part of the problem because society as far as I was concerned, sort of abandoned and neglected these kids,” said Dosanjh. “How often did somebody take these kids by the hand and give them guidance, support, love and care, the resources that they need to succeed and the higher education, the organized sports?”
Dosanjh wanted this to change and he wanted to be a part of that change. So he started running organized sports programs under the police athletic league after work for inner-city kids.
Dosanjh lives in Surrey and saw the trajectory that many kids in his community were headed. He wanted to bring what he started in Vancouver to Surrey. With that, KidsPlay was born.
Today, KidsPlay Foundation has locations across Canada and several around the world, including India, Colombia and Uganda. The organization runs a number of different programs from sports camps, educational forums, mentorship, community patrols, and more.
Online, visit kidsplayfoundation.com for more information.
Like us on Facebook Like us on Instagram and Follow Anna on Twitter.