Joe Drexler is on a mission to change the world, one act of kindness at a time.
His mission was sparked about 12 years ago. His five-year-old daughter was set to enter her second year of hockey. Earlier that year, the company Drexler was working for went out of business and his finances took a big hit. When it came time to pay for his daughter's registration, there was no money left in the pot.
"We had to make that hard decision that Samantha was going to miss hockey," Drexler said.
Her coach eventually called, inquiring why Samantha's name was not on the registration. After speaking with Drexler, the coach called again to inform him the organization would be covering Samantha's costs for the year.
"When I hung up the phone, I looked at my wife and told her 'I want to do that for the rest of my life,'" the proud father of four said. "The next year, they offered us the sponsorship again, but we didn't need it, and instead, we sponsored a child. It was a wonderful feeling. Too many kids are sitting on the sidelines."
Recognizing that one in three families can't afford to put their children in youth sports, Drexler created Be The Game to help children build their confidence, self-esteem and character through sports camps, and eventually expanded into schools.
On Sept. 12, Drexler and his team were in Sudbury to launch a North American tour of Be The Game's 21-Day #KindEveryTime Challenge. After visiting St. Raphael Catholic Elementary School to issue the challenge earlier in the day, the Be The Game group was joined by members of the Laurentian University men's and women's hockey teams, Sudbury Wolves and Sudbury Nickle Barons at RHP Training Centre to help spread the message of kindness.
The 21-Day Challenge engages students to focus on positives and helping one another rather then hurting one another. The students are given booklets to track their daily acts of kindness. All participating students receive certificates and Awards of Excellence. The program is also available for sports teams and associations.
"Last year, we collected over 160,000 acts of kindness from kids, mostly in southern Ontario, between October 2012 and June 2013," said Lynnette Rumble, director of operations for Be The Game. "We're helping kids recognize that it's the small things you do that make the biggest impact."
Be The Game is supported by a number of high-profile athlete ambassadors, including Sudbury's own Marcus Foligno, of the Buffalo Sabres, and Tessa Bonhomme, of Team Canada, as well as former Sudbury Wolves players Gerome Giudice and Akim Aliu, among others.
"We know that young people are influenced by iconic individuals, like athletes," Rumble said. "We also know that in sports, there's a lot of bullying behaviour that goes on. These are efforts to try to make a dent in some of that culture."
As a father, Drexler recognized the need for more positive influences within the school system as well.
"Too many kids are going to school afraid of bullying, they aren't going to their sporting activities and hobbies because of bullying, and it needs to stop," Drexler added. "I took it as my responsibility to ... challenge our society to step up to the plate, and learn how to be kind instead of mean.
"It takes 21 days to make or break a habit. This challenge is creating kindness by breaking the habit of bullying. We do have the power to create change."
For more information about Be The Game or the 21-Day Challenge, visit bethegame.ca.