Karen comes from a family who loves sports and grew up with sports featuring prominently. Her dad was a star athlete in high school. Her brother Ken followed in his footsteps adeptly performing in any sport that he chose. Her dad played basketball well into his 50s coaching and mentoring countless numbers of children and youth in Oshawa. Although not blessed with athletic talent, some of Karen’s favourite childhood memories are of watching the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Argonauts and the Masters with her dad, going bowling with her Nana, and cheering Ken on at high school football games. This became a lifetime of enjoying whatever game was on the TV in the company of her beloved family.
All of this changed when her dad passed away in 2010. Karen lost total interest in all sports. It was just too painful to contemplate watching football, hockey, golf or anything else. In 2015, Karen had the opportunity to join her church’s Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Committee to support the resettlement of one of the first Syrian refugee families, a family of seven with 5 young children, to come to Canada in December 2015. Little did she know, when she said “yes” to a simple request that it was the start of a journey that would transform her and her life too deeply and broadly to articulate in words.
On the day after the family’s arrival, Karen was treated to the sight of the three boys riding bikes and kicking a soccer ball around in their backyard. With her lifelong love of children, she quickly became involved in taking the kids to the park, swimming pool and beach for hours of play and fun. It quickly became apparent that the eldest, Ali 10 ½, had a love of all sports, but especially soccer, and was athletically-gifted. After living some of his young life in a war zone, Ali had left almost everything that he knew and loved behind in Syria to flee with his family to Lebanon. Resettling in Canada brought monumental challenges: adapting to total unfamiliarity; learning English; getting back to school after an absence of almost five years; making new friends; and coping with trauma and PTSD.
Karen witnessed the impact that sport had on Ali and the role it played in serving as a gateway to integration into his school and community and broader Canadian society. Ali inspired a dream in Karen to ground a sports and recreation program that would support physical, social, and emotional wellness in children and youth, regardless of identity and athletic ability, and provide an opportunity to learn and grow and expand horizons. With Ali’s continuous inspiration and the knowledge, skills, passions, and dedication of Ali’s mentor Carl and MCASS summer student Farkhunda, Scarborough Simbas was born.
Ali re-ignited Karen’s love of sport. Karen has been Ali’s biggest fan at sporting events, practices and games and they’ve travelled far and wide across Ontario to watch a match. On Saturday mornings when the program is running, you’ll find Karen in the gym or on the field watching her Simbas, and there’s no place she’d rather be.