Published April 05, 2019 16:05
Every Thursday for the past seven months, after dismissal from Churchill High School, Mesgna Mesgna would grab his books and head to Winnipeg’s Central Park neighbourhood to continue his lessons.
Since the fall, the Grade 12 student has been helping kids in Grades 4 to 6 at the Sister MacNamara location of the Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg with their math and literacy skills. The program he founded, called Sports and Smarts, combines academics with athletics to get youth working on math, language arts, and science subjects while developing confidence, teamwork and good habits.
"There’s so many lessons that you can teach: you’re never going to be good at something if you never practise it, and try something new," Mesgna said. "Those ideas I really pushed through the program."
Mesgna, 17, attended the Boys and Girls Club growing up and was hired as an activity facilitator in 2017. While working as a facilitator, kids would confide their marks, and share their aversion for school with him, Mesgna said.
"I saw myself as someone who could take those kids who’ve been pushed along and kind of forgotten about and work with them specifically," he said. "I could show them that learning is fun, it doesn’t have to be a chore and it can be something you enjoy, and the sports side of it is for the kids I saw just sitting on the benches."
The two-hour program begins with an hour of sports instruction, often something new that hasn’t been tried before, Mesgna said. The kids are sometimes shy to begin, but develop confidence over time.
"You can see it on their faces that they’re starting to take themselves more seriously," Mesgna said. "Once they see that basketball go through the net… they start to think ‘I can actually do these things. If I put my mind to something I can do it,’ and that carries on to so many things in life."
In February, Mesgna was selected as one of 35 Loran Scholars. The national award, worth $100,000 over four years, is given to graduating high school students who demonstrate evidence of character, commitment to serving their communities, and leadership potential. This year over 5,000 students applied to the program. Mesgna is also a recipient of the 2019 Horatio Alger National Entrepreneurial Scholarship, worth $10,000.
His work with local kids, as well as is his involvement with the high school basketball team as a point guard and the "Bro Bonds" men’s wellness club, were acknowledged in the scholarships.
Curiosity and the pursuit of opportunity have always motivated Mesgna. As a child, his family — originally from Eritrea — immigrated to Canada from Sudan. The youngest of four kids, Mesgna spent many afternoons at the Boys and Girls Club.
"My mom was trying to get an education and daycare was ridiculously expensive," Mesgna said. "I was there just to hang out at first and then it became an opportunity to explore a city I’ve never known.
"It grew to me giving speeches at their fundraisers and gave me the opportunity speak for the first time in Grade 7," he said. "It keeps building on itself.
Mesgna has yet to confirm where he will attend university in the fall, but knows he’ll be headed out of province. He plans to study business and computer science.
"I feel like I have the set of skills to make myself who I want to be," Mesgna said. "But with the support of whatever university I go to, I can really mold that and shape that into something bigger than I ever imagined."