“… It’s about showing kids there is a different way and helping them out however I can.”

            The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced during their Nov. 13 game against the Edmonton Elks that defensive lineman Makana Henry had received the team’s “Community Player of the Year” award for the fourth year in a row.

            Henry, a new resident to the hamlet of Riceton, explained that the award holds a different meaning to him.

            “I don’t really care about that, I just do what needs to be done,” he said. “You know it’s about showing kids there is a different way and helping them out however I can. The awards don’t mean much to me.”

            Henry has worked closely with organizations like Street Culture Project, has organized backpack drives and mentorships with Regina’s Scott Collegiate high school and recently helped to secure a headquarters for the Regina youth mentorship and programming non-profit organization Reggie City.

            That headquarters will be based at SRG Football Performance Center, which is set to open in 2022 and will be a multi-purpose space for youth and athletes in Regina.

            “The facility will be a headquarters for Reggie City, a programming space for both Front 7, a football and fitness coaching business that I run for youth, and Wolverine Football Training Inc. operated by a local, Justin Nagy. The facility will host a sports therapy room, a classroom with a teacher on-site to support students in their studies and provide tutoring, and a youth recreation space where youth can hang out, play view games and have a safe-welcoming space to spend their time” explains Henry.

            Although football will be the main focus of the facility, Henry has also partnered with other athletes like Saskatchewan Rush player Jeff Shattler, New Line Boxing Academy coach Moses Alli and 306 Shop and Skatepark owner Andrew Hinx to provide a variety of programming for youth.

            Henry says this is only the beginning though.

            “We are always looking for new partnerships,” he said. “We would like to open up the space for all different sports, events and programs.”

            For Henry, the importance of a facility like this cannot be overstated. In his own experience, football provided him with the opportunity to go down a new path in life.

            “I am someone that many of the youth can relate to,” he said. “The things I have done and experienced in my life are now things that I can use to help others. Between that and being with the Riders, who I am sometimes brings youth to our programs. It’s cool to have some Riders around, plus someone that can understand what they are going through. If that little bit can get them in the facility then that’s a real good start. This facility will let them know that we aren’t far away.”

            Henry, who is originally from Ontario, had multiple experiences with youth detention facilities, the judicial system and drug violence in his youth. Despite these challenges, giving to others was always an important part of his life.

            “It is really my mom that started it all,” he said. “I remember us heading down to the local soup kitchen each Christmas. My mom was always helping someone, fixing problems and taking people in. Being with the Riders has helped me express that humanitarian spirit in me.”

            As the Roughriders head into their playoff drive, Henry is optimistic about the team’s chances for the Grey Cup.

            “I think we are strong contenders,” he said. “We gotta stay focused and keep grinding. Our greatest asset is our drive. The Rider spirit is unmatched. You can see it each time we step out onto the field. We’ve got a lot of heart in our locker room.”

            Winning the Grey Cup will require a few things though too, he explained.

            “There are always things we can fix up,” said Henry. “We need to clear up our penalties and some of those missed assignments. In the end though it is an honour to be a Rider. I feel like a gladiator each day I walk on to that field. That roar of the crowd, that never gets old.”

            Being a member of the community of Riceton also means a great deal to Henry.

            “I think I’ve become more neighbourly.” he said. “I understand the concept of having and being a neighbour. In rural Saskatchewan you never know when you may need someone and that in turn someone may need me. I understand that concept of community more.”

            This is one of the reasons that Henry would like to expand his humanitarian efforts out into rural Saskatchewan.

            “I would really like to create bridges and connections within the First Nations and rural communities in the province,” he said. “Maybe make partnerships with local ag producers or something like that. I think youth out here would want to play football and would really benefit from the support and programming we offer, it’s just not as accessible to them. Maybe, working together, we could make something happen. I want to start supporting the people and communities where I live.”

This article is one of several selected from our Nov. 25 edition for online publication in full. To receive more content like this on a weekly basis (rather than whatever we decide to post online whenever we get around to it), subscribe to The Forum today.