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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Recreation leadership is child's play

By Mark Toljagic
Special to The Sun

Is there a need for professionals to teach children how to play?

Surprisingly, there's a large contingent of recreation programmers in Canada who help shape and deliver recreation and leisure services to youth and adults alike.
Centennial College graduate Alf Grigg is a training co-ordinator with the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation department.

You've probably benefited from their work. Whether you've gotten involved in the YMCA/YWMA, summer camp, after-school programs, sports leagues or swimming, a recreation professional likely made sure you had some fun -- and learned some new skills.

Alf Grigg is a training co-ordinator with the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation department and a lifetime advocate of having fun. It's no small task: 75,000 Toronto kids rely on the department to provide safe places to play and enriching programs.

Grigg has designed some memorable play activities to help people get more out of their spare time, and help to build leadership abilities and self-esteem, too. Innovative programs such as running a swim meet without water and canoeing in a cardboard box are solutions to common camp problems such as unco-operative weather.

While it may sound silly to be paddling while sitting in a carton on the floor, Grigg says the exercise reinforces important lessons about canoe safety.

"Every day is an experiment, testing new ideas in the classroom," says Grigg of his remarkable 33-year career teaching kids how to play. He once devised a game using wheeled dollies and toilet plungers to simulate rowing teams on the water.

"You work with what you've got," Grigg recalls with a grin. "We had so much fun, we got kicked out of the Balmy Beach Club for making too much noise."

Grigg is the first to admit his creativity has been both a boon and a hindrance. His off-the-wall energy is not always appreciated around the office, but he can sure make things happen in a gym or classroom.

At 57, Grigg displays the youthful fervor of a man half his age. He teaches other recreational workers motivational, team-building and supervisory skills, as well as communications and relationship building.
  • Centennial's Recreation and Leisure Services program is two years in length and includes 800 hours of field work, the largest integrative field component in Ontario.
  • Average employment rate for graduates from 1998 to 2002 was 93.8%.
  • Qualified graduates can participate in an articulated degree program with partner institutions, including Brock University and the University of Waterloo.
  • For details, visit

  • Grigg found his career direction after joining the YMCA at the age of nine. He got involved in leadership training at 12, and learned from some great mentors while camping at Geneva Park and Bark Lake, two well-known training centres for recreational leaders. It was there that he realized recreation is an important human endeavour.

    He enrolled in Centennial College's Recreation and Leisure Services program in 1967. Community college was a new concept then, and Grigg admits it was a "safety net" for him, since he didn't have the resources to attend university.

    Centennial's two-year program teaches students to plan and conduct effective recreation and leisure services for people of different ages in various settings.

    Centennial provided lots of hands-on learning in real situations, which Grigg really appreciated.

    "It built my self-esteem and confidence," he says of his college experience. Little did he know that he would eventually teach recreation leadership skills after graduating.

    Alf Grigg is an institution in the recreation field. It would take a book to document everything he's accomplished over the years. Suffice it to say that he's had a lot of laughs and, more importantly, he's shown countless others how to have fun, too.

    "Let's live each day instead of wasting it on negative energy worrying about things," Grigg says, recalling his philosophy on life. It's as simple as child's play.

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