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To protect, serve and help others Carleton's Safe Jam Basketball Tournament Raises Money for Special Olympics Ontario

By Laura McCaffrey

Photos by Akintunde Akinleye

Welcome to the Safe Jam

Nicholas Saucier fell in love with basketball when he was just seven years old. He grew up playing the sport and it has remained a passion of his in his adult life. Now, as a special constable in Carleton’s Campus Safety Services, he has a new passion: to protect, serve and help others.

In the fall of 2017, Saucier found a way to marry these two interests to do something good. He created an event called Safe Jam, a charity basketball tournament that brings together members of the Ottawa community in order to raise money for Special Olympics Ontario. This year, eight teams participated in the tournament, including players from Campus Safety Services, Student Safety Patrollers, Carleton University’s Student Association (CUSA), Oliver’s Pub Security and the Ottawa Police.

Inspired by a Culture of Good

Special Constable Saucier was inspired to organize an event of this nature by the culture within his industry and department. Campus Safety Services prioritizes community partnerships, engagement and outreach, as is demonstrated in the department’s tagline: Protection Through Partnership 24/7. The department delivers various programs and initiatives throughout the year that are focused on giving back, such as preparing food hampers at Christmas for the Ottawa Mission and offering a new scholarship for criminology students at Carleton University.

“It’s big for our department to give back,” says Brian Billings, director of Campus Safety Services. “That’s one of the values we believe in. It’s all about community.”

The wider policing community in Ottawa also places a large emphasis on community engagement. “I used to work in a jail for young offenders and was a recreation officer for a period of time,” Saucier recollects. “In that role, I saw how sport can bridge gaps, connect people and build a sense of community.

“I currently play for the Ottawa Police Hoopstars basketball team, which connects law enforcement with youth in Ottawa through friendly basketball games,” Saucier continues. “I’ve seen first-hand the impact I can have through sport and volunteering, which helped inspire the Safe Jam concept.”

Players from Carleton and the local community participating in Safe Jam.

When it came time to put the Safe Jam idea into action, it wasn’t hard to settle on a beneficiary. As a former auxiliary constable with the Ontario Provincial Police, Saucier had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2010 Special Olympics in Kingston, ON. “Just meeting the athletes was wild. Seeing their athleticism and the things they can do was eye-opening,” Saucier mused. “As a result of that experience, Special Olympics Ontario is a cause that’s close to my heart. It’s also a theme within our department and in law enforcement in Ontario—Special Olympics Ontario is a common recipient.”

Grassroots Growth

When the tournament premiered in 2017, it was small-scale. Saucier organized the event by himself, and as it was a pilot year for the event, the awareness and visibility were relatively low. Nonetheless, it was considered a successful first year for a grassroots event. “The turnout for the first year was impressive,” recalls Saucier.

Now, just one year later, the tournament has grown exponentially. For one, Saucier has a dedicated organizing committee that helps to plan the event. More teams registered in 2018 compared to 2017, despite an increase in registration costs in order to raise additional funds for Special Olympics Ontario. Through increased awareness about the event on campus—mostly through word-of-mouth—the tournament more than tripled its fundraising dollars from 2017.

The organizing committee was also able to secure substantial in-kind support from the community; various sponsors agreed to donate prizes to be given out to attendees of the tournament. “We’ve received amazing support both on and off campus,” says Saucier. “The prizes poured in this year: Sens tickets, meal vouchers from Ollie’s Pub, Ravens tickets from Athletics, free haircuts from [Jay’s Barber Shop] in Ottawa.” Other sponsors included University Services, Carleton University Bookstore, CUSA, #IVEGOTYOURBACK911, Premium Suites and Rodney’s House.

Making a Difference

What started as a grassroots initiative spearheaded by an individual who wanted to make a difference has grown as the result of partnerships and collaboration; like-minded people at Carleton and beyond want to contribute in order to support the important cause.

In Nick Saucier’s mind, the tournament provides a relatively easy way for people to get involved and to positively contribute to their community.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said of participation in the tournament. “For me, being Here for Good means being here for more than just work—not just punching in and punching out. It’s about doing something bigger than you in order to make an impact in the community. It’s all about making positive community contacts.”

Connect with Campus Safety Services:

Website: https://carleton.ca/safety/ | Facebook: Campus Safety Services – Carleton University | Instagram: @cusafety | Twitter: @CarletonSafety

Click here for information about the 3rd Annual Safe Jam tournament, taking place on Friday, January 10th, 2020.

For more Carleton University community engagement news, including success stories and partnership opportunities, visit the Hub for Good!