Working with a group of energetic, strong-minded teenage boys could sound more intimidating than exciting to most, but for Sara Pichet it’s “the best part” about Tutors For Warriors.

It all started with family chatter around the dinner table. Sharing the latest news, Sara’s brother explained how his fellow football players were at risk of being kicked off the community team as a consequence of reckless behaviour. Having grown up a soccer player for her local team in LaSalle, Sara not only understood the importance of playing a sport, but also of being able to do the thing she loved.  This marked the first spark of Tutors for Warriors, which in 2011 became a weekly after school tutoring program for the Warriors football team, ages 13-17.

Four years and a crew of volunteers later, the program has become a hub for both learning and guidance.

How did TFW develop? What has come out of it? What can Sara tell us about her understanding of leadership? Community development? We wanted to find out, so we chatted with the founder on the bleachers of the Riverside Football Field on practice night.

The Development of TFW

Why did your brother’s story inspire you to create Tutors for Warriors?

I felt strongly that kicking these athletes off the team was the worst solution to the real issue at hand. If anything, give them more football. Give them more tools, more activities. Give them something they can learn and grow from. These kids go to practice 4 days a week for 2 hours every evening. What are they going to do if you take away their football? Where are these kids going to go? There aren’t any facilities in the area for them to just hang out at and be in a safe spot. They’re going to be running around a lot more. So that’s when I thought ‘You know what? Maybe I should do some tutoring and offer them access to different tools and a bit more perspective.’

How was tutoring your solution?

I knew the boys were struggling with their schooling because some of them were friends with my brother. When they came over they would ask for help because they had a test the next day. I would always tell them to come to me earlier and eventually they started to do just that. I realized that they probably weren’t the only ones on the team who needed help. Some of these boys are such great athletes. They train morning and evening and eat the right things. The thing is, if you don’t have school it just doesn’t work. You won’t get to play football at a University level and for a lot of them, that’s the dream.

What is TFW’s mission statement?

Our mission is to help the athletes develop their potential as students and as young men. It’s not that they have to be A+ students, but if they just needed to study a little more to get the 65 or the 70, we want to be the place where they’re able to get that extra help to reach their maximum. We hope that they’re able to learn more about themselves along the way too.

The Benefits and Challenges

What’s the best part about TFW? 

The boys. Honestly, their personalities are so great. Some of them are quieter than others, but then they say something and all you can think is ‘Where have you been this whole time? You’re the funniest person ever!’ They’re such characters. We do icebreakers with them each session…charades helps us see so many other qualities they have. You get to watch them become comfortable in their own skin, which is the best feeling. These are really a bunch of great guys who just need the right setting to be the better person.

What has been one of the greatest challenges?

Finding a space was one of the hardest parts. Larry Burns, (the president of the Warriors team), has connections within the LaSalle community, so he tried to get any of the high schools to offer us a classroom to use. It became political because not all of the kids from the team attended that particular school. At that point it was tough because I didn’t have the money to rent out a space. One year we didn’t have the space so we couldn’t do the tutoring program. Luckily, for the past 2 years we’ve done it at the Trinity Pentecostal Church thanks to Larry who spoke with the mom of a past player who is the secretary there. It’s an open space that works, so we’re really lucky.

What keeps you going through the hard times?

I have the mindset where I need to do everything before giving up on the program. I know I would be disappointed in myself and disappoint others if I didn’t use all of my resources to find a solution. That’s my fear, disappointing others. I think as long as I use my fear to drive positive action, that’s okay. Be afraid, but use it as fuel. So that’s what I’ve continued to do.

What are some testaments to the impact this program has had on these athletes?

Whenever we have to cancel a session the guys get upset. It’s become a resource they depend on and look forward to. Something that really touched us was when one of our students graduated high school and gave us a signed photo thanking us for the help and good times.

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Community and Leadership

You play a role in community development. What does the word ‘community’ really mean to you?

The ability to truly recognize the people around you. To recognize that we’re all the same even though we’re different… to feel like we’re not alone in this. I think for a lot of the boys, admitting that they needed to be tutored was scary for them, but seeing all of their friends getting tutored made it okay. In a community, even if you might feel like the odd one out, you’re not really ‘out’. It’s okay to be who you are.

What qualities do you think have made you an impactful leader?

My ability to adapt to the situation and to the student. During one session, the Church that we use was closed, so I had to make a last minute decision for us to all go to the park and do our work there. The bleachers become desks if you sit backwards [laughs]. Also, you really have to learn how to connect with each person. With some kids you need to be firm. With some kids you know they will only resist if you’re too authoritative. It’s really been a learning process. I think I’ve become a leader as it’s developed. It came from a place of trusting my teaching skills, having been a tutor and being a big sister.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do something like this?

You need to identify something you’re good at and you need an idea you can get behind. For me it’s been tutoring because I knew I was good at it and that it was something I could serve to others. Find that thing and then go from there. Also, definitely in the beginning, send out those emails. Don’t stop. You gotta harass people in the best way [laughs]. Be polite- but really, you’re harassing. You’re letting people know who you are.

Kindness

What would you like to share with everyone?

If you’re good at something and you can give back, try to figure out that way, because it is honestly the most rewarding thing you can do. When I have a good tutoring session it can hold me over to the next week, even if I’m having the worst one. So, find that thing that can hold you over to the next week if you’re having that worst week because it’s so worth it. It makes everything you do in between so much better…I want the boys to know that we’re here for them.

The Key to Acts of Kindness is _____.

Seeing the opportunity. Even if it’s holding the door – do it. Hold the door. If it’s bigger than that, don’t hesitate. You’ll figure it out once you start it. Just start. Especially if your intentions are good, what’s the worst that can happen?


How can you get involved in TFW? We’re glad you asked! Shoot us an email or reach Sara herself at tutorsforwarriors@gmail.com to find out how you can help make a difference.
Do you know of someone making a difference in our city? Drop us a line. We’d love to get to know another Next Door Neighbour!

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Next Door Neighbour is a project dedicated to sharing the stories of our fellow Montrealers who are consciously creating positive change in our city. Follow us as we explore their initiatives and gain insight into what motivates these leaders to make a difference.

 

  • By: Anna Dora

    Anna is our Love Montreal columnist. With a BA in Human Relations,
    she loves connecting with others to explore how our experiences and
    philosophies shape our lives. She may have a notebook obsession and
    can be found adopting discarded furniture off the streets.

  • Thiru is a #NextDoorNeighbour

    See all this author’s posts

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