COLUMBUS, Ohio - Cam Atkinson has always been one who understands and appreciates the position he holds as a professional athlete.
Few players wear a bigger smile both on and off the ice than Atkinson, and when he was thinking of creative ways in which he could give back, he couldn't think anything better than to put smiles on the faces of kids who are in a day-to-day battle for their lives.
Not long after, a natural partnership developed with the Marty Lyons (former New York Jets linebacker) Foundation in New York, which aims to grant wishes to children diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
A year ago, Atkinson organized his first "Keep Hope Alive" fundraiser benefiting the Marty Lyons Foundation and it was hosted by his mother Ellen's cashmere store (Magaschoni) in Greenwich, Conn.
Several NHL players were in attendance, signing autographs and helping spearhead the fundraising efforts that produced over $16,000 for the foundation.
In year two of the event, Atkinson has even higher hopes and bigger goals, and "Keep Hope Alive" is on track to enjoy more success in 2013. Atkinson has used partnerships with local businesses, a larger venue this year - Stamford (Conn.)'s town hall - and an expanded cast of NHL stars to raise the profile of the event and they have already surpassed last year's total dollar amount raised.
"Last year, we raised $16,000 and we’re not even at this year’s event and the donations are over $25,000, so that’s really exciting," Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. "We have a lot more people this year and tons more have shown interest in wanting to get involved. Our goal is to get to $50,000 in donations and I think it’s definitely possible.
"We started planning a lot earlier this year, and if you want to do it right and for it to be successful, you have to plan it out the whole year and have some help doing so."
Editor's note: as of Tuesday afternoon, the official page for "Keep Hope Alive" donations shows over $32,000 raised with three days until the event.
This year's "Keep Hope Alive" takes place Friday night at the aforementioned old Stamford Town Hall building, and runs from 7-10 p.m. Among the NHL players scheduled to attend: former Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard (who remains close friends with Atkinson), Chris Kreider, Martin St. Louis, Matt Moulson, Nick Bonino, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jonathan Quick, James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty and Nathan Gerbe.
The impressive guest list doesn't stop there, either: former New York Rangers star and current MSG network analyst Dave Maloney will emcee the event. Longtime MLB manager Bobby Valentine - also a friend of Atkinson's - is going to be on hand, and could possibly host the live auction.
While there will be plenty for the adults to enjoy - including quality food and drink throughout the evening - Atkinson wants the event to be kid-friendly, as well. He's bringing in a handful of arcade games for the youngsters and local mascots Screech (from the Springfield Falcons) and Storm (from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers).
Atkinson might be the chief recruiter for the event, but he knows it wouldn't be possible without constant support from his friends, family and the local community. The planning is extensive, but at the root of it all is a cause that's close to Atkinson's heart and that means an awful lot to him.
"The foundation and what it means is so important to me," Atkinson said. "If I can help sick children and give them one or two wishes and see a smile on their face, there’s nothing better in this world. As a professional athlete, we’re put in positions where we can do something like this and it’s very humbling. I feel like it’s my duty to give back in any way that I can.
"A couple kids came out last year from the foundation and their wish was to meet some hockey players. We took a group picture at the end of the event, and that was the best part. The kids were smiling, the guys who came in for the event were having a great time and to me, that was the highlight."
To learn more about the second "Keep Hope Alive" fundraiser for the Marty Lyons Foundation, visit the event's FirstGiving page by clicking here.