Beyond the Rink: The Transformative Work of John and Aryne Tavares

John Tavares Foundation © Erin Leydon

By Raye Mocioiu

John Tavares, Canadian ice hockey forward and captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a family man in more ways than one.

Since co-founding the John Tavares Foundation (JTF) with wife Aryne Tavares, the athlete has been on a mission to reach as many children and families as possible and provide them with the resources needed to achieve their full potential.

“I don’t think there’s a better feeling than seeing a smile on a child’s face,” said Aryne, co-founder and CEO of the JTF. “It speaks a thousand words and makes us want to keep giving back and reach as many people as possible.”

Aryne explained that the couple had long wanted to find a way to give back, and when the time finally came, they were determined to hit the ground running.

“We had wanted to start something when John was playing in New York,” Aryne explained. “We had spent quite a bit of time brainstorming who we most wanted to impact and how the Foundation could ultimately come to life. But between John’s busy schedule and my master’s degree, the timing was just not right. When John signed in Toronto in 2018, all that time we had spent brainstorming paid off—JTF officially launched in early 2020.”

The Foundation aims to ensure universal access for children to the necessary support and tools that empower them to actively participate in their communities and discover their inner passions. Through the giving of essential resources, JTF strives to promote their physical, nutritional, and emotional well-being. By equipping them with essential resources, JTF aims to support their physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being.

“Our mission is to help kids everywhere understand the importance of proper nutrition and embrace healthy lifestyle options that fuel both their passions and potential,” said John.

The two take this mission seriously—in the few short years that the Foundation has been operating, it’s already created an impressive track record of impact, with over 25 corporate sponsors, five major community partners, and 12 giveback initiatives and counting.

john tavares foundation
© Courtesy of JTF
Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) poses for a photo with his family and former Toronto Maple Leafs Darryl Sittler honouring his 1000th career point before a game against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Family Values

As parents themselves, the couple has a keen understanding of what kind of support families need, and they aim to provide it. Their work with the Foundation also emphasizes the importance of quality time, community involvement, and nurturing children’s passions, not just to Foundation partners and supporters but to their own children.

“It is so important that our kids understand the importance of giving back and providing support for those who might not have the same opportunities we are afforded,” Aryne said. “We are huge believers in quality over quantity, and spending quality time as a family is something we know can never be taken for granted. Through JTF, we strive to provide kids and their families and communities with opportunities they otherwise might not have.”

With this in mind, the Foundation focuses primarily on harnessing the power of community engagement to build partnerships that meet families where they are and help youth reach their potential.

“Our approach to creating a positive impact for future generations has always been rooted in family and community,” Aryne said. “We find it important that everyone works together to create a better tomorrow. Through programming and various other community enhancement projects, we hope to positively impact youth who will, in turn, help create a better place for everyone.”

Community, the Tavares’ explain, plays an essential role in shaping future generations. As a professional athlete, John has firsthand experience with how a strong community can be foundational to building a brighter future.

“Looking back, I was fortunate to find my passion early in life,” he said. “Beyond the coaches and teammates who are now life-long friends, hockey taught me more than just how to pass the puck; it taught me plenty of life lessons, like teamwork, collaboration, communication, work ethic, and the power of a positive attitude. The lessons you learn on a team can tremendously impact your life, and these values are at the forefront of the Foundation. We want to ensure that kids everywhere are provided with the tools to participate in their community, awaken their inner passions, and transform their potential into possibilities.”

Powerful Pillars

“Growing up, many people make a positive impact and contribute to shaping you as a person—obviously, family is at the top, but an extension of that is the community around you,” Aryne shared.

For her, growing up included community events, clubs, and leadership camps, teaching her to set goals, overcome adversity, and achieve her dreams. John recalls time spent bonding as a family, learning and discovering new passions, cherishing meal-time moments, and, of course, playing sports.

“Aryne and I launched our Foundation to provide a path of inspiration and encourage families to savour experiences and each other by discovering different ways to eat healthily, be active, and be mindful,” he explained.

Drawing on their childhoods and experiences as parents, the Tavares’ run JTF with four main pillars: healthy eating, mindfulness, human connection, and being active. Each of the Foundation’s initiatives operates with these pillars in mind.

In 2023, the Foundation donated $50,000 to The Ballantyne Project to support their Food Project initiative. This program helps provide nutritious food to families living in the remote First Nations community of Lytton, B.C., devastated by a fire in 2021.

Since then, along with support from ReFeed Farms, the Food Project has delivered 5,000 lbs of fresh produce and 9,000 lbs of non-perishable food to residents of Lytton, and cooking lessons were provided to residents by Indigenous chef Siobhan Detkavich of Top Chef Canada fame. It has also led to an enduring partnership between the two organizations.

This year marks an expansion as the initiative will be organized into two separate trips, further amplifying its reach and impact in 13 remote Indigenous communities across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories.

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) with his family is honoured for his 1000th point before a game against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Back to School Backpack program is another mainstay of JTF. Alongside community volunteers and Toronto Community Housing, the Foundation provided and filled 1,300 backpacks with school supplies, ready for distribution to students living in Toronto’s government-subsidized housing—the largest donation of bags they had seen in this area to date.

“The backpack program has done great work with inner-city children, providing the necessities for students so they can go to school and achieve their goals,” shared John. “Every kid deserves to have that opportunity. The simple resources that many of us take for granted go a long way.”

Looking ahead, the Tavares’ are anticipating another year of fostering partnerships that make a difference in the lives of children, families, and communities.

“Our goal for the Foundation is that it creates an impact beyond our years,” said Aryne. “Each year, we strive to reach and provide resources and tools to more youth and families than the year before. With our goal of creating sustainable programming, we hope that the impact we create in each community we serve will not only last but also grow and evolve.”

“We built the Foundation knowing that each year would bring a new opportunity to give back,” added John. “It makes creating opportunities for the next generation to grow even more rewarding. Children are our future, and it’s important we empower kids to be kids, families to be families, and enable communities to thrive.”

© USA Today Sports/Bob Frid VIA Reuters
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