Twelve-year-old Fadi Bouzertit spent his weekend racing up and down a soccer field in a park in the borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, chatting and kicking the ball around with kids his age.
A lover of the sport since the age of five, Bouzertit is just one of dozens of youths aged 12 to 18 that were able to join a new, free soccer league that kicked off this weekend thanks to a local community organization.
Le Mouv HLM is a Montreal non-profit organization created by and for youths in social housing. The group teamed up with the Office municipal d'habitation de Montréal (OMHM) to spearhead the league in a bid to provide a positive environment for kids and steer them away from negative influences, including gangs and drugs.
"I have to say it's great, I work hard, make friends and learn new soccer techniques," said Bouzertit.
An organizer of the league, Iman Youbi with le Mouv HLM, says being able to offer these kids this league is a great feeling.
"We are trying to do something positive with [the kids] and we thought that soccer will be a great idea because we know that youths love soccer and it was something that was asked by them," she said.
The league is just the start of a three-year project that OMHM says will benefit youths.
"We think the youth don't have a lot of chance to have activities really, and free activities," said Nathalie Morin, the director of social activities for the OMHM.
"So it's really important to give to them opportunities to do something together, because you know with the COVID, it was really hard for the families. They were just at home, you know, and with nothing to do."
Morin says the soccer league is just one initiative among a host of others in store for youths. The two groups are also looking at starting music sessions and artistic showcases for kids not interested in sports, and adding other sports leagues for those who are.
"It's all supposed to be free," Morin said.
As the city continues to battle the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine passports are mandatory to play in the league. Youbi says she's worried that might cut down on participation, but she says this weekend's turnout and response from participating youths was a great starting point.
"It's a very nice feeling because we know that they are really enjoying it, they come to see us and tell us how they like it and they want more of it so we have the motivation to continue," she said.