People who made a difference during COVID-19 pandemic: Interval House Hamilton strikes special partnership with Hamilton Forge FC

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Since 2013, Interval House of Hamilton has been recruiting male leaders in Hamilton to be part of MentorAction, a group of male leaders in the community who are committed to ending gender-based violence against women.

Four years ago, MentorAction furthered its initiative by introducing Be More Than A Bystander, a program from British Columbia aimed at mentoring and teaching male youths and young men about respecting women and knocking down sexual stereotypes.

Members of the local sports community have joined the program; the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Hamilton Bulldogs, McMaster Athletics and most recently, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Hamilton Forge FC, the city’s professional soccer club, has come on board.

“We have a very clear mandate which is to support healthy, active and empowered youth in our community, and this is an extension of that,” said Forge president and chief operating officer Matt Afinec. “Soccer by nature is the most gender diverse game there is.”

Afinec said all 21 team players and three coaches have or will receive Be More Than A Bystander training online and Forge captain and Canadian Premier League player of the year Kyle Bekker along with Chris Nanco and Johnny Grant will be the team’s community representatives for the program.

The trio will take part in several initiatives including public service announcements and educational videos, hosting online, interactive webinars on challenging toxic masculinity within sports (including dressing room talk) and help expand the program into schools via virtual presentations.

“As professional athletes in Hamilton with Forge FC we understand the impact we have as role models in our community and the importance of the Be More Than A Bystander program,” Bekker said. “We can use our platform to help create awareness and mentor youth in our community on the societal issue of gender-based violence and give them the tools they need to make change. Having those transformational conversations with our youth sets the stage for that healthy engagement and mentorship.”

When youth soccer resumes after the pandemic, Forge FC has pledged to meet with youth soccer teams and teach young players to recognize gender-based violence and give show them practical ways to seek support and learn to Be More Than A Bystander.

Interval House of Hamilton executive director Nancy Smith noted Forge joins them at a time of what she has referred to previously as two pandemics: domestic abuse and the coronavirus, adding the pandemic has made it more difficult for abused women to leave a relationship.

With the public being told to stay home, Smith noted some men are using the pandemic to abuse and control women.