Columbus, OH -- The students at Hastings Middle School in Upper Arlington kicked off their day of service outreach with an appearance from a Blue Jackets player known for his personal involvement in the community.
Forward Derek MacKenzie spoke to the sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the annual Hastings Outreach Program (HOP) Day before they went around collecting food for the Food Bank and tidying up local parks. His advice to the kids was rather simple: "have fun, be yourselves and bring energy to the day."
MacKenzie spoke to the kids and relayed his own personal experience as one of the most active Blue Jackets players in the community. With two young kids of his own, the fight against pediatric cancer is a cause he fully supports and pays close attention to. He regularly visits Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus with his teammates, as well as the pediatric wing of his hometown hospital in Sudbury, Ont. during the offseason.
"When I first came to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jen Bowden (from the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation) asked me to visit some of the kids at the hospital," MacKenzie told BlueJackets.com. "I wasn’t thinking that when I got to the hospital that I would become attached and listen to their stories and become so interested. I ended up wanting to get back there and help these kids, wanting to find out how they’re doing and if their treatment is going well.”
Becoming involved with the children's hospital has allowed MacKenzie to be more immersed in all the Columbus community has to offer. From the time he arrived in Columbus four years ago until now, MacKenzie has come to feel at home in central Ohio.
“You don’t hear a ton about Columbus if you’re not from here and you tend to hear more about the big cities like Chicago, New York and Boston," said MacKenzie. "Initially, I didn’t know too much about Columbus and I didn’t have too many perceptions about it, but being here I quickly found out how nice it is. I’m not a big city guy, and not having a lot of traffic, being close to the rink and coming home to my nice community are all real big pluses of living here.”
Though he knows that as a professional athlete he is never permanently settled in a certain town, MacKenzie has taken it upon himself to use the platform that comes with the pro-athlete label for the benefit of the place he currently calls home.
"Having to leave is just part of the game and something that could happen pretty quickly," said MacKenzie. "But whether you’re here or not, you can’t take away memories you’ve had here and there’s nothing stopping you from coming back.
“Columbus is a big part of my family now. My wife and kids look forward to coming back here every year, and my daughter especially likes to go to the zoo. That’s the great thing about Columbus—there’s so many things to do with the kids and it’s just a clean, safe place to be. Being able to give back to where I live has been great.”
MacKenzie hopes that in speaking with the students during today's assembly that they will become as interested and involved with giving back to the community as he is.
“I think back to when I was that age and wonder--will it sink in? Maybe, maybe not," he said. "I know when I was younger it was a pretty intimidating thing to go out in your community and do something to step outside the box and help somebody. But if I’ve made it a little easier or a bit cooler today, then that works for me.”