The ongoing celebration of lives impacted positively by the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation is a remarkable testament to the organization's strident commitment to improving surrounding communities.
The Blackhawks have managed to bring hope to disenfranchised individuals who previously felt no hope. Promise to neighborhoods that saw no promise. And resources to groups and struggling organizations who were without adequate resources.
Video: Chicago Blackhawks Foundation - Fundraisers
In my more than four decades of writing about professional athletes and organizations giving back to the communities they represent, I can honestly say the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation is the quintessential example of service, dedication and unconditional goodwill.
The Blackhawks have been champions on the ice with three Stanley Cups in the past 10 years. And without exception, they have been winners off the ice every year thanks to the Blackhawks Foundation and its multiple initiatives to reach out and include those who are often overlooked or totally ignored.
The foundation's stated mission is to: "Provide access to the programming and funding necessary for organizations to make a positive impact. Our goal is to grow the game we love while giving the people we serve a chance for something greater. Our vision is a healthier, smarter, more secure world for families in and around Chicago."
During my tenure as the Blackhawks community correspondent, I have witnessed the joy expressed by parents watching their child skate for the first time at the MB Community Ice Arena. I have seen the impact of the Blackhawks' First Stride program on the confidence of young participants. I have seen eyes light up when Blackhawks players show up at Chicago grade schools for the Reading Program. And I have marveled at the willingness of young people to accept the value of volunteerism passed on by the Blackhawks through the ServICE Crew program.
Last November, the winter coat giveaway was a big hit at the MB Ice Arena. Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, MB Financial Services and Operation Warm teamed up to hand out the new winter coats.
"Throughout the entire Chicago Blackhawks organization, there is an unconditional commitment to give back to the community," Tovah McCord, Chicago Blackhawks Foundation Director, said. "In fact, more than 90 percent of MB Ice Arena's utilization is dedicated to the community, including educational programming with Chicago Public Schools."
Another popular and successful venture has been the Chicago Blackhawks Building Champions program that promotes social and emotional learning through sports. The first five weeks, students learn about key life lessons gained from being a member of a team through group discussions and physical activities. During week six, students celebrate the completion of their program by skating on the ice.
I was particularly impressed with the seamless way the trained instructors were able to allow the youngsters to have fun participating in games, while also emphasizing key messages about sportsmanship and life lessons.
"We are very intentional about that because we knew these life lessons were pretty important, but we also wanted to make it kid-friendly," McCord said.
Video: Chicago Blackhawks Foundation - Community relations
The addition of the MB Community Ice Arena a year ago has tremendously enhanced opportunities for the Blackhawks Foundation to be of greater service.
"The West Side has been very, very good to our family and Jerry Reinsdorf's family for many, many years," Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz said when the facility opened. "This is something we wanted to give back to the community. We are here to stay. We are here to do what we can for young people."
Blackhawks leadership, including Wirtz, club president John McDonough, vice president Jay Blunk and countless community relations and fan development staffers have created an atmosphere of giving back that will remain the organization's remarkable legacy, right along with all of the Stanley Cup championships.
The Second Annual Blackhawks Foundation Night takes place this Saturday when the team hosts the Vegas Golden Knights. For more information about the event, to watch videos or donate to the foundation, visit blackhawks.com/foundationnight.