I recently spoke with Alex Mohamed, a Program Specialist at the Jays Care Foundation. He takes pride in his work in delivering programs to impoverished communities across the country. He was recommended to us by Daniel Marozzo. Daniel described Alex as, “a natural leader with a terrific charisma and enthusiasm which allows him to achieve whatever he sets his mind to.”
Alex has accomplished a lot with the Jays Care Foundation in just under two years with them. He shows his pride for the great work his team and the foundation do across the country. I had the great opportunity of listening and learning more about Alex’s passion and the amazing work the Jays Care Foundation does.
Please note: This interview was conducted via phone. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your current role as a program specialist with Jays Care
We are a sport for development organization. What we do, being the not for profit portion of the Toronto Blue Jays, is we run programs across Canada for youth that are marginalized. Whether that’s kids with cognitive disabilities, youth in the inner cities, kids in indigenous communities. Whatever it may be. My role as the program specialist is to oversee some of these programs. I recently created and implemented two programs; One in northern New Brunswick and one in northern Saskatchewan in an indigenous community. My role basically comes down to coordinating with people on the ground at those locations and taking what we can at Jays Care and all the programs we want to run and give it to the youth you may not have an opportunity or access to sport. Hopefully, through that we can use sport, or in our case baseball, to build on life skills that we want these children to grow
What does your day to day look like?
We work out of the Roger Centre, which is a cool factor. But day to day it varies. We have most of our programs in the season but we have some that do run during the school year. So day to day is similar as it would be with a regular sport organization. It’s coordinating with people on the ground at locations we want to hold events. It’s working on a lot of the manuals that we give out to people and the coaches that we train. But more than that it’s staying on top of everyday work we have.
Currently, because of the end of the summer, we start to look at budgets for next year and at the same time, we’re writing our reports on what went on this summer. But day to day it changes because we have days when things go wrong in our program and we have to solve them. Or we have incidents because we’re a small team in comparison to what we do. So we will have days when one of our teams need help and we have to fill in and assist where we can.
You worked with the city of Brampton for many years in their summer camp programs. What was it like there and how has it helped in your current role?
For me the biggest thing was when I started working at summer camps I was still in high school and it was a cool and fast way to learn and be put into these environments where I was a teenager overseeing kids on a day to day basis and now today being around kids. It helped with interactions and seeing where they are in a sport development stage and how to communicate with them.
You took sport management in university and were very active in having a variety of roles at school. Do you mind telling us about your experience at university, taking sport management, and the roles you had?
A lot of young adults have the same line that they wanted to play professionally but you eventually realize that it’s not for everyone to play pro. I grew up playing competitive baseball and it came to a point where I had to make a decision and realize what was ahead for me. Studying sport management at university and getting a degree while being able to learn more about sport was really cool for me because my interest in sport was always there. When it came to being involved while at school it’s pretty easy to settle, even though your studying you have to continue to try and differentiate yourself and gain experience. So, during my first year, I worked with the varsity baseball team and was with the game day staff.
We ran the snack bar, we did stats, scorekeeping and I did that on the side because of my interest in baseball. In my second, third and fourth year I worked with the intramurals. There was similar to current role as it was for people at school who wanted to meet people and keep active.
There, I ran registration, created a schedule, and my first year I oversaw it as the convenor, the following two years I was a coordinator of officials. I hired students on campus to be officials and referees and you had to ensure everything was going right and make sure they knew what they were doing. Those two roles were a really cool way of being involved in the university getting to know people. But also learning and adding to my degree. Coming out with a degree and experience was far more helpful than just a degree and little experience. It just gave me skills that I still use to this day.
You seem to enjoy the programming aspect of Sport. What enticed you to follow that realm as a career path?
What I did before my current role I was a facilitator for different programs which is similar to when I worked for the city of Brampton. Where I’d go to different sites. With Jays Care we go across Canada and you facilitate summer programs for kids. I think the programming aspect comes into it and the interest in sports. I think there was a time I realized how grateful I was for everything there was for me as a youth playing sports.
That the idea I was put into recreation programs and had parents who were able to pay. When this position came up I think the programming side of it was my understanding I had skills and knew had to make programming pretty cool and implementing it in a way to allow the most amount of kids across Canada no matter their circumstance to benefit from it. I learned at school that in sport there are three avenues private, public and non-profit.
When a lot of people look at sport and sport management they think of private and professional sport teams and my position I think I’m in a cool in-between. I’m under the umbrella of the Blue Jays, a private organization. But I’m working for a non-profit. Where it’s far more grassroots and when you have that programming background it helps when it comes to hands-on activities. I’ll have days where I’m planning and coordinating but I will also have days where I’m with thirty to forty indigenous kids and running a baseball program. So it’s really different but it’s something that keeps me on my toes and allows me to continue to learn every day.
You’ve mentioned having a small staff. Is it difficult working and planning for different events whether it’s in inner-city Toronto or in Nunavut?
I think what makes it difficult for us is everyone is trying to plan their own program and you’re trying to plan yours. But there are times where a small team allows you to be creative and it has allowed me to learn on the go. At times you make mistakes and that’s apart of life. You have to let go and move on, learn and grow. And we’re small but we run programs from coast to coast to coast and give kids access to programs they may not have an opportunity. So we have bad and good days but in the end, giving kids a chance to play who wouldn’t is the most rewarding and doesn’t get any better.
What’s it like bringing a sport, like baseball, to Nunavut and being to able to interact with that part of the country, do you see first hand the unifying aspect sport can bring?
It’s cool when we go to these places but we partner with people and there is someone there we’ve been communicating with for a while so you get to know them there. Moreover, when Jays Care comes to town, it’s like the Toronto Blue Jays are coming to town. You see these towns all start wearing Jays gear and kids running up pretending they’re professional athletes. You see the impact you have on the community.
When we fly to First Nations communities who may not have access to cable but they know when Jays Care is coming and it’s really cool and bringing people together I think is what we do. We have the Blue Jays logo and we are the foundation that works for them and when we go to these areas we are able to bring communities together from all different ages and we are able to communicate through the language of sport. It’s really cool. So wherever we go it’s a different experience but it’s always good to see what we do at the organization.
You’ve worked your way up in Jays Care by starting as an RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner cities) coach to where you are now. How have you arrived there and how can a person grow in an organization?
Before I was with the Jays, I was a recruiter with my University. When that contract expired I took roughly five months looking for full-time employment. When young people try and look for that perfect opportunity to break into the industry that opportunity may not come right at the start. When the RBI program came up it was difficult, logistically, because I live in Brampton and coming into Toronto two days after school was challenging and not the most ideal but the foundation was something I really wanted to be apart of and I knew could be extremely rewarding.
So, when I took the position I coached a team twice a week for roughly five hours a day. Those opportunities and taking that job on was maybe the best thing I did because it has since led me here. From that job, I got a summer role. I think the biggest thing is you’ll have to do roles where you aren’t sure what they’ll lead to and some may lead nowhere but you have to take chances and do things you enjoy. That way you don’t seek the pay and you seek what you can learn from it.
For me, I was super fortunate that role led me here, but where you start is understanding long term where you want to be and working backward on how to get there. Also, a lot of it is what comes up. The circumstances and the timing may not be right because there will be opportunities and that’s nothing against the individual that’s just the competitive industry it is and you just have to take those little steps, reach out and learn to put them in place and move forward. Some people get it the first try others don’t, but you have to keep trying.
How do you ensure you and your staff are all on the same page and communicate properly so the main vision stays intact?
When it comes to communication and effectiveness at the Jays Care Foundation, we work in small and large teams and the more you communicate the more people understand. For me, personally, at the start, I didn’t ask questions, because I didn’t want to seem that I had no idea what I was doing. But when you need help you need to speak up. Especially in an environment where people want to help each other. In our team, we do things where we follow a person’s plans. We do things that when we hit roadblocks and there may not be someone to turn too, speaking up and communicating is important to let people know you need help because when you get in those spots you try and reevaluate things in your head and that may not be the best thing to do. So communication is huge in all aspects of the industry regardless of your role. But I know for us, communication in our if you need help, people will be there to assist you.
What would say is the most fulfilling aspect of working for Jays Care?
I think every day when I travel and bring baseball to communities who wouldn’t have it. You take a step back and realize how fortunate you were when you were younger and I think the most fulfilling aspect about the work that we do is bringing baseball to these areas where they don’t have the equipment or adults aren’t familiar with the game so they can’t really teach, whatever the case may be.
When we walk away and kids are asking me to autograph their shirt and I’m just someone who works for Jays, I’m not a professional athlete or anything but seeing the smiles, parents thanking you for letting them get closer with their kids, or hearing stories about kids who feel more confident because they’re now apart of a team or made friends from the event we held.
Those success stories make it worthwhile. Sometimes you wonder after all the hard work you put in you think what’s the point? But you see it from the start and how great it is. I recently went to a small indigenous community in Northern Saskatchewan and we saw six communities come together with all these kids and volunteers together playing and having fun and the most fulfilling is when you see kids walking away and you hear them say “Are you coming back? Because it was a lot of fun! We have many long hard days at the Jays Care Foundation, but I’m super grateful to be where I am and I’m grateful for what I do and I know if I put all my effort into my work it’s going to have a big impact on these communities and that’s the most fulfilling.
What would you say to any young professional who may be in a difficult place trying to find a job or aren’t sure what path to go down in the sport industry?
A lot of people fall into that spot and all I have to say is that there is no rush to find something right away. I’m not saying settle, but if something doesn’t come up in a few months you have to keep looking. There is no timeline. You may look at someone else and say “they have a job and I don’t”. But take it at your own pace. We all have different experiences and we will all have different jobs.
There is no time frame on that. So my biggest piece of advice is that you have to take your own time and time frame. When you are looking for a job, allocate time to look for one. You have to put the work in. Update your resume, update your cover letter. Because when I look to hire people I can tell now when people are just mass applying and if you really care about something and see an opportunity that can be beneficial for you, you change it up.
You may hear back, you may not, but that’s nothing against you. Someone probably had more experience. You just keep moving and keep working hard and everything will come your way for a reason. At the same time, it’ll take a while to get something and there is no point in stressing on how much time it takes. You are running your own race no one else is in your lane.
Who do you think we should interview next for SPMA?
1 Joseph Johnson
Joe is the Athletic Director at Crescent School in Toronto. I’ve worked alongside Joe for over 4 years and he is someone I respect at a very high level as an individual and as a co-worker. Joe’s ambitious and goal-driven mentality requires those around him to raise their work ethic to reach his. His hardworking nature is contagious in any group he is around. Joe is an energy that is noticed in any room and any group he works with is very lucky to have his talent on their team.
2 Daniel Deschenes
Daniel is the Assistant Director of Scouting at the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL (United States Hockey League). He is someone I’ve worked with alongside with my various roles at Brock University. I’ve always looked up to him for the sacrifices he made to put him in the place he is and the number of hours he dedicates to learning. He is a natural leader and someone who is very flexible in many environments. Dan was a huge mentor for me during my time at Brock and is still someone I look to for life advice.
3 Cody Bradt
Cody is at Event Operations Officer for the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation). I worked alongside Cody during my 2018 summer at Jays Care while we were National Program Facilitators. Cody is one of the most hardworking and outgoing individuals I know. He is determined to get any task done and I know one day he is going to be tremendously successful. Cody has excelled through the sport industry after completing his sport management education at Niagara College and the University of South Wales in Cardiff. Cody is mature, well beyond his years and I look forward to seeing the things he does in the future.
4 Kyle Callaghan
Kyle is the Founder and Owner of Wild Wolf Hockey, an elite hockey training company based in the GTA. I’ve known Kyle for over 15 years and is someone who has taught me a lot about working hard but creating a work-life balance. His successes at such a young age show the determination and high degree of intelligence he posses. Kyle was one of the first individuals to give me an opportunity to learn and grow during my roles at the City of Brampton. He is well known in the hockey community and is someone who continues to grow his personal brand by the day.