There’s no shame in bringing your hearty appetite to the OSEG Foundation’s Gourmet on the Gridiron because there will always be an Ottawa RedBlacks football player dining at your table and, chances are, he'll be eating way more than you.
The Ottawa RedBlacks team plays a remarkably involved role with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) Foundation and its programs to help more children and youth access sports, particularly those facing social and economic barriers.
Gourmet on the Gridiron, presented by Site Preparation Limited, was held Monday night for its third time at the TD Place stadium at Lansdowne. Normally, the 400-person crowd, including CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie,would've had their meal on the football field but, due to the wet weather, dinner was served on the rain-proof concourse.
The mood was upbeat and fun, with cheerleaders there to greet everyone and guests engaging in some light tossing of the pigskin.
The evening raised awareness for the RedBlacks Mentorship Program that helps youth from communities dealing with higher poverty and school dropout rates. The program, run by the OSEG Foundation, connects youth to Ottawa RedBlacks players, who act as athlete mentors and role models. When children and youth aren't able to participate in skills development programs, the room heard, their health, education and job opportunities, and overall quality of life suffer by the time they become adults.
RedBlacks linebacker Avery Williams artfully commanded the room’s attention before sharing his own story of being a mentor in the program. The mentees have so much potential, he said of the five youth who were called up on stage.
“These people right here are our future,” said Williams. They could be in charge one day, he told all the business leaders in the room. “So, make sure you be nice to them.”
Williams joked that his “one and only job” as a mentor was to teach his mentee, Ameera, how to master the Rubik's Cube. His own completion time is one minute and 57 seconds. “So, I gave it to her at our first meeting,” said Williams before adding that he was surprised to see her return with the iconic puzzle at their very next meeting. “She did it front of me in a minute and 30 seconds."
The crowd responded by erupting in cheers, applause and with some ringing of cowbells, just like in a football game.
“I’m going to tell you, be nice to them," Williams repeated. "They’re going to be your boss one day.”
The crowd also heard how the OSEG Foundation was able to help a visually impaired teen named Alexandre Gaida learn to play hockey. The 14-year-old youth lost his sight at age nine.
“He always wanted to play sports,” his mother, Joanne, told OBJ.social. “When he went blind and lost his sight, he thought, ‘This is it; I can’t play anything’.”
Through the OSEG Foundation, he was able to join a program that taught him and other visually impaired kids how to skate and learn some hockey drills. “He was able to realize his dream,” said the mom. “My gosh, his self esteem has gone through the roof.”
OSEG is a professional sports and commercial real estate management group that owns and operates the Ottawa RedBlacks and Ottawa 67’s. Its partnership includes high-profile Ottawa businessmen Roger Greenberg (The Minto Group) and John Ruddy (Trinity Development Group), both of whom were in attendance that night.
Also spotted from the OSEG Foundation board were Kathleen Grimes, president of Site Preparation Ltd., Jim Durrell, president of Capital Dodge and chair of Hydro Ottawa, OSEG president and CEO Mark Goudie, community volunteer Jim Orban, and Relationship Capital CEO Ian Sherman. The Foundation is led by executive director Janice Barresi.
Greenberg reminded the crowd how hard the pandemic has been on children and youth, particularly on their physical and mental health, as well as their social development. “The mission of the OSEG Foundation has never been more at the forefront, to help kids reap the benefits of sports so that they can excel and reach their full potential,” said Greenberg, who is board chair of the OSEG Foundation, executive chairman and a managing partner at OSEG, executive chairman of The Minto Group and — oh, we're not done yet — volunteer chair of The Ottawa Hospital’s $500-million Creating a Better Tomorrow campaign.
Praise was dished out by the CFL commissioner over the impact that CFL teams such as the Ottawa RedBlacks have on their communities. “I would tell everyone willing to listen that our players give more into the community, pound for pound, than any other pro sport in the world,” said Ambrosie.
Jim Watson expressed his appreciation as outgoing mayor of Ottawa to the OSEG leadership, its Foundation, and to the RedBlacks coaches and players for helping so many underprivileged kids.
He also commended the OSEG business partners for turning Lansdowne Park from a tired and dumpy property into “a destination that we’re really proud of”.
“We have a really first-class facility here and, if the new council gets it right, we’re going to have an even better facility,” Watson said of plans to further improve Lansdowne with new north-side stands at TD Place stadium, a new arena and three new towers.