Nunavik basketball group grinding now in hopes of shining later

Organizer Russ Johnson working to alleviate funding woes so Inuit youth can participate in sport

Participants in Grind Now Shine Later Nunavik pose in Ivujivik, with young basketball players from Ivujivik, Quaqtaq, Salluit, Kuujjuaraapik and Kangiqsualujjuaq. (Photo courtesy of Russ Johnson)

By Cedric Gallant
Special to Nunatsiaq News

It was a weekend of hoops in Inujivik.

Basketball organization Grind Now Shine Later wrapped up a weekend in the community, marking its fifth event over the past two months.

With so much on the go, leaders of the volunteer-run organization say they are starting to feel the strain.

“Truthfully speaking,” said organizer Russ Johnson, “it’s a really difficult thing, both for planning and the fact that we don’t have the staffing to do that without a great deal of effort.”

He said the growing number of volunteers are close-knit and continue on because they believe in the community organization that aims to raise graduation rates and lower the number of deaths by suicide through participation in sport.

However, alongside the weight of organizing and planning events they have to make sure funding is in order. Currently, Grind Now Shine Later’s financial situation is unstable.

Initially, the plan was to run a jamboree event that would bring all communities to Aupaluk in October. Johnson said that when he contacted Air Inuit to ask how much it would cost for 47 students to travel to the event, the airline’s price tag was $150,000.

“We were about $100,000 short,” Johnson said. “Right now, we are struggling to find funding partners that are able to meet the flexibility we need, which is hugely important.”

Johnson fronts much of the expense himself, he said, including $12,000 to send a group of youths to a basketball program in Montreal two summers ago. It took eight months to get that money back.

“I’m not a rich guy, so for me it’s very hard to do,” he said.

Between organizing events and applying for funding, Johnson hopes Grind Now Shine Later might benefit from a new generation of helpers from among the young people they have trained.

For example, he brought a couple of youths who have been involved in the organization for about three years to Puvirnituq in October.

“They are 17, and the skills they developed were good enough to be showcased to younger people,” he said.

“That goes right along with what we want to do with the program. In five years or more, when we step back, we want things to be run by Inuit youth.”

The plan now is for Grind Now Shine Later Nunavik to become a non-profit organization in the coming months.

According to Johnson, this strategy may help some of the organization’s funding and staffing issues.

Grind Now Shine Later’s next basketball event is Nov. 11 in Kangiqsujuaq.


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