Norfort Gymnastics Association
According to her colleague Liz Guilbeau, Sandy Boisvert is the "head coach, program director and everything else," of Norfort Gymnastics Association in Fort McMurray. Sandy in turn describes Liz as "office manager, business manager - and everything else." When you're part of the staff of a facility that offers programs for children from 18 months to 18 years, you learn to do it all.
In a city known more for its skill at extracting bitumen from oil sands, Norfort Gymnastics has been offering competitive and artistic programs since 1980 and has sent athletes to the Western Canadian Gymnastics Championships for the last ten years. Norfort currently trains 30 competitive gymnasts.
Thanks to money received through the Community Spirit Program donation grant, Norfort is training more children than ever, after adding a full-time coach and new cheerleading, tumbling and trampoline programs.
"We can now offer more daytime programs than ever before," explains Liz. "In earlier years, many of our staff members were only part time, and were restricted to working only in the evenings. With an additional full time coach, we're now able to put even more kids through our programs, and have increased our age-range to 18 years.
But there's far more to Norfort than just elite programs. Learn Through Play offers parents a respite from the winter weather and gives kids from 18 months to 5 years a chance to burn off energy, master motor skills and establish active lifestyles. They can progress to other programs as they get older, and many do. Sandy cites an example, a boy who came to Norfort at age two with underdeveloped motor skills. "Coming to Norfort regularly has made an amazing difference for him. He's still with us at age seven."
Another boy, who was born legally blind, has been attending Norfort since the age of 18 months. Now age five, he has no problem keeping up with Norfort's regular programs despite being able to see only shadows. "He knows the layout of the gym, where all the equipment is."
One of Norfort's most innovative programs is one designed for autistic children. Initially integrated into regular programs, the autistic children found that, with another 32 to 40 high-energy kids around them, the atmosphere was simply too distracting. "It wasn't working for them."
By helping to pay wages, the Community Spirit Program gave Norfort some flexibility to try an experiment. As Liz tells it, "We told the parents we would hire a coach and try a private class for the autistic children, with a limit of six to eight children participating."
It made all the difference. Parents reported an improvement in their children's engagement with their surroundings, at home and at school. "Now teachers' aides are recommending our program directly to parents."
Norfort welcomes children regardless of their experience or background and encourages each to follow their own path. If a child's family can't afford the program fees, they can help offset the cost with volunteer and fundraising duties. From time to time, the board will sponsor a child to help them with the registration costs.
Norfort also offers dry land training for figure skaters and skateboarders, and even gave some basic gymnastics training to an aspiring stuntman, who later found work in California. "We got a great thank-you letter from him," Sandy laughs.
In the what-if category, Sandy and Liz say they would love to enlarge the facility and hire more full-time staff. Being able to pay good wages is an important goal in a town where competition with the lucrative oil and gas industry is a fact of life. "Having a staff member to create and maintain a website would be great, too."
Whatever the future holds for Norfort Gymnastics Association, one thing won't change. "Our goal is to see every child reach their full potential."
Norfort Gymnastics Association is located in Fort McMurray. Contact them at (780) 791-1107.
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