Beyond the EDGE

Blazers partner with RCMP and SD73 to teach real impacts of drug use

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Joey Kornelsen, a TRU student and player for the Kamloops Blazers, toured Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for Project EDGE, seeing the effects of drug use firsthand. Photo courtesy Joey Kornelsen

Joey Kornelsen, a TRU student and player for the Kamloops Blazers, toured Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for Project EDGE, seeing the effects of drug use firsthand. Photo courtesy Joey Kornelsen

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a neighborhood most Canadians have heard of, East Hastings known as a street for lost, homeless and drug addicted souls. This summer it gained attention when actor Cory Monteith’s fatal Vancouver heroin overdose made national headlines, and when InSite, Vancouver’s one-of-a-kind safe injection facility was again the topic of controversy. More recently, the conversation was revived around crack pipe vending machines fixed in the same neighborhood, intending to provide safer drug paraphernalia and limit the spread of disease among addicts.

But while some debate over whether or not the Downtown Eastside is Canada’s hard drug capital and what can be done about it, others are using it to educate Canadian youth on the harmful effects of drug use.

In partnership with the RCMP and School District 73, the Kamloops Blazers run Project EDGE. Though hearing a drug use prevention message from a role model makes it a reality for kids, seeing what the message is trying to prevent makes it a reality for the players.

In September, six Blazers sat through seminars and learned the ins and outs of drug use and addiction, which they would eventually relay to classrooms full of their biggest fans. Then the RCMP drug task force suited up and took the players on an evening tour of the Downtown Eastside so they could see the grim reality of drug addiction firsthand.

“You’re not really paying attention until you see it,” Joey Kornelsen said.

“It” being the rat infested streets and the cockroach-ridden apartment buildings that reek of “literally death.” They also met the people who call these places home.

“We saw people shoot up, tweak out, shake, people foaming at the mouth, smoking out of crack pipes… just everything you can imagine.” Kornelsen said.  “But then you get to talking to the people. Most of them will agree to talk to you because they don’t want you to go down the same path.”

Although he started the tour with a sense of antagonism towards addicts, Kornelsen said their stories evoked empathy. None of them want to be where they are.

The players take this message and spend the rest of the season delivering it to elementary-aged children in School District 73. Because they’ve seen the end result of drug addiction, Kornelsen said they are able to convey an honest and more powerful message. It’s the same message that the RCMP have been delivering for years, but he said he thinks it has a much stronger effect coming from the players who are often seen as heroes to kids. For other kids it can be learning from their peers that makes the difference – youth teaching youth.

He said it’s in this arena that the Blazers have the biggest impact.

“They’re supposed to be the best thing in the community, a police officer. So you know what they’re going to say all the time,” Kornelsen said. “They just say that message to you over and over again. You won’t really think twice about it, but when it’s someone you look up to or you see play, then maybe it sets in more.”

This is the eighth year the Blazers have run Project EDGE. Kornelsen, also a part time student at TRU, said the message would be equally effective coming from TRU athletes.

“I’d like to see all the teams in the WHL do it,” he said. “I’d also like to see not just hockey teams doing it, maybe TRU’s volleyball team… I learned so much and it’s a rewarding experience talking to those kids.”

Kornelsen has presented at ten elementary schools and he said the students are always eager to hear what they have to say and are always armed with many questions. They are often proudly wearing a Blazers jersey, too.

“I think it does a good job of educating them. I hope it does,” Kornelsen said. “Even just getting them to set goals for themselves.”