David Clarkson still remembers a message his grandmother told him: “If you’re ever lucky enough to give back, please do.”
But he’s never seen an NHL organization do as much to live up to that as the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Clarkson is doing his part as well.
“I haven’t played for an organization in my career that’s given back as much as this place has,” Clarkson said. “To me, that’s a very special thing to be able to say.”
For the entirety of the 2015-16 hockey season, Clarkson has personally sponsored a suite in Nationwide Arena, affectionately named “Clarky’s Clubhouse.” Every home game, in concert with the Blue Jackets Foundation, Clarkson hosts 16 kids from a different local community organization.
Clarkson hopes to provide deserving young people with an opportunity to experience one of his passions: hockey. In addition to taking in a game, Clarkson provides his guests with food, beverage, books to take home for younger children, and custom Blue Jackets toques that read “Clarkson #23” around the crown.
On any given night, attendees may also have a surprise visit from Jackets’ mascot Stinger, a post-game visit to the locker room, or, as Clarkson recovered from a recent injury, an in-suite visit with the player himself.
“I believe that I am so lucky and blessed to be able to play a game for a living and to be playing as long as I have,” Clarkson said. “I’ve always thought of myself as wanting to give back and when I’m done playing that’s something that I hope these kids will remember, they got to come here and meet one of the players.”
Clarkson says spending time with kids answering questions about hockey and learning about their favorite things is what he enjoys the most about the Clarky’s Clubhouse program. He has fielded questions on everything from the markings on the ice and why play stops, to where the cannon is and why the crowd yells “Duuuuub!”
But the in-game experience is just the beginning of what Clarkson and the Jackets are trying to do.
The reason for those customized hats? They serve as a reminder of being a part of a select group of people who’ve been in Clarky’s Clubhouse. The toques are not just intended to keep the wearer’s head warm, they also hopefully let every recipient know that they are special in the eyes of Clarkson and the Blue Jackets.
“It’s a cool touch that any kid that has been here gets to have that and it means something to me,” Clarkson said.
When it comes to inviting people to the Clubhouse, Clarkson works with the Foundation to identify community partners who can take advantage of the suite and share the game of hockey with children who’ve never experienced it before.
Some groups have turned the visit into a reward for completing certain programs or academic achievements, while others invite children who deserve a night focused on fun.
Since he arrived in Columbus last February, Clarkson knew he wanted to organize a program like this. He’s worked with the Foundation to make it what it is, and now, having another player-driven program like Clarkson’s provides just one more way for the Blue Jackets to give back and grow relationships with community partners.
“This organization believes in giving back. From Mr. Davidson to Jarmo (Kekalainen) to ownership,” Clarkson said. “They really want to make a difference in this community and I think that’s something that’s been instilled in their family and put through the organization.”