The Chicago Blackhawks first-ever community Halloween event provided more treats than tricks at MB Ice Arena.
More than 300 youngsters from Boys & Girls Clubs and other community organizations around Chicago were invited to the two-hour party. The festive event included trick-or-treating at various locations throughout the building, face-painting, shoot-the-puck opportunities, balloon shaping, a special visit from (mascot) Tommy Hawk, pumpkin painting and open skating. The get-together was created to provide a safe and fun environment for kids to celebrate Halloween.
Video: Halloween at MB Ice Arena
Youngsters from Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boys & Girls Club, William H. Brown School of Technology, Legacy Boys & Girls Club and ICE (Inner City Education) were in attendance.
"We wanted to bring out kids from local organizations to have a fun, safe environment to spend Halloween that would allow them to skate, paint pumpkins and other activities," said Meghan Pollack, Blackhawks Community Relations assistant.
Vanessa Loera and her 10-year-old son, Angelo, were among the first to arrive. Angelo has been a member of the Inner-City Education program in Cicero. "He loves it," Mrs. Loera said. "We are so happy the Blackhawks provide this opportunity for so many kids. Angelo has been skating for two years."
Brad Erickson, the founder and executive director of the Inner-City Education program, said he was delighted to see many of his young people smiling and having a joyful time at the Blackhawks Halloween event.
"The ICE program basically provides hockey and education opportunities to inner-city kids who otherwise would not have access to them," he said.
"It's a lot of fun for the kids to be able to do something different. Get out of their neighborhood and come somewhere that is safe, fun, interactive. They get to go on the ice, they get to see Tommy Hawk, eat candy...it is really a great event the Blackhawks put on for them."
Erickson said the Halloween party was just the latest of several community-minded events initiated by the Blackhawks organization.
"It's phenomenal. Since the MB Ice Arena has opened (last January), the Blackhawks have been a great partner in the community," Erickson said. "And that was one of the things they talked about way before it was opened. And they have lived up to that, certainly with our program. We are here every Monday. They give us an hour of ice time for our kids. And we also use one of the meeting rooms for an hour for academic tutoring before practice. They get to go on the ice after the tutoring and that is all donated by the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation."
Erickson posed for pictures with many of the students involved in his program and the youngsters were all smiles.
"I started this in 2003 and we originally just gave out scholarships to low-income inner-city kids who played hockey," he said. "We have been partnering with the Blackhawks for a long time. Brent Seabrook in particular. Our bowling event is our main fundraiser every year. It has grown tremendously over the past 10 years. And now we have started our own hockey program--this is our fourth year---to help create more kids who fit the profile to apply for an academic scholarship. To be considered for one of our scholarships, you have to be a hockey player. You have to be considered low-income. And you have to not have a good public school available. So any of the kids who meet that criteria can apply for a scholarship."
Love of the sport of hockey and the opportunities provided by the Blackhawks made this year's Halloween especially enjoyable for hundreds of youngsters from Chicagoland.
"There are not that many inner-city kids who play hockey, of course. So we will give kids the opportunity to play hockey and we will cover that base," Erickson said of his program. "We recruit kids from that low-income area where they have under-performing schools. We have 30 here (in Chicago) and 60 kids in Cicero. Out of 150 kids, we have 34 on scholarship this year."
Erickson was able to turn a personal dream into reality about 20 years ago, with the help of the Blackhawks.
"I was coaching kids in West Garfield Park, starting in the late '90s, in an outdoor rink that got put up every winter,"he said. "I just got to know the kids really well over the first few years and learned about their home lives. There were difficult situations and circumstances with families being split up and parents in prison or not around or killed. Then I learned that their schools weren't very good. And I just thought that these kids don't have much chance through no fault of their own. They were smart, polite, funny, curious good kids. They were just kind of cheated by chance.
"I know that hockey helps with discipline and teamwork and all these other things. But I thought the best way to help them longterm was to get them a better education. One of my very first scholarship winners is 29 now and on our board, which is the greatest."
This year's Blackhawks Halloween party created a fun atmosphere and fitting reward for so many deserving youngsters.