Before Andrew Henry held such distinguished titles as a professional Canadian football player and beloved church pastor in Pointe-Claire, his life took a different direction.
A new Canadian immigrant at the age of 14 and the son of a single mother, the Jamaican-born teenager lived in a tough Montreal neighborhood and hung out with a tough crowd.
“Were in [Place Benoit in the Saint-Laurent area], the boys are in trouble. Unfortunately, some were murdered, some unfortunately went to prison, ”he said. “What do you do when you are in a situation like this? How do you operate, who do you turn to? “
Enter Sun Youth, a Montreal community service agency offering programs to help young people stay active, be part of the community and stay out of trouble.
The organization took Henry as one of their own after seeing the talent he displayed playing football for the Saint-Laurent Spartans team for a few seasons, a team he joined on a sudden. head after being invited by a friend.
“Here I am, a stranger from the rival of crosstown [of the Sun Youth Hornets] and from day one I was kissed, “he said.
Henry trained and trained at Sun Youth facilities, including their gymnasium, a resource he had never had access to. He was even able to access summer jobs through the organization.
After honing his skills, offers started pouring in.
“Sun Youth gave me another way”
Henry then played football at Murray State University in Kentucky on a full scholarship. After graduation, he was drafted fourth overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and played in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for eight years before retiring.
“My whole career started [at Sun Youth] like they knew it from the start, ”the former CFL athlete said with a smile. “Sun Youth gave me another path; it showed me another way, ”he said.
Fast forward over three decades, and Henry is giving back by teaming up with the same organization that has helped him get to where he is today.
As administrator of the Lester B. Pearson School Board in the Continuing Education Department, Henry created an initiative in partnership with Sun Youth and the Department of Education to get children off the streets and have them practice a physical activity.
The aim is to reduce the dropout rate in schools and increase the number of graduates by redirecting young people to non-traditional educational paths and supporting them through various opportunities towards success.
Alicia Wright, who has known Henry for over 20 years, says it’s not the first initiative he’s launched to see young people succeed. Fresh out of the CFL, Henry worked at Riverside Park Academy in LaSalle, where he coached Wright’s touch football team.
At school, he created the concept of a “planning room,” where he would work one-on-one with the students who were causing problems instead of having them suspended or expelled.
“Pastor Henry has truly been someone who has set a great example, not just for me, but for everyone he comes in contact with,” said Wright, who works with Henry in his church.
“He showed by himself and by example what it means to work hard.”
For Ann St Arnaud, director of communications for Sun Youth, Henry’s return to the organization to help is a huge motivation for young people.
“It’s important to show hope, to show people that it’s not always like that, it’s not always a fight,” she said.
She says Henry’s initiative is the ultimate goal of the program.
“This is the essence of Sun Youth, this is all we want in life, is for children to succeed in life and be good citizens and want to give back to society. “
Henry said that without the support of Sun Youth, he would not have had the career he had and the position he now holds as pastor at the Church of the Apostolic Wisdom and Life in Pointe-Claire. He said he owes his success to the organization.
“I have a definition of success,” said Henry, “It’s the acquisition of a feat, a dream, through hard work and dedication. But it can’t be done without support. Sun Youth was that support.
“And here we are, not only then was I the one receiving help, but today I am part of this whole aid process.”