Almost a year in, the coronavirus pandemic has been hard on just about everyone.
That is doubly true, though, for nonprofits, especially those that work with kids. With in-person activities curtailed for just about everyone in the state of Ohio, it's been harder than ever to make a difference, and that's been the case for the Columbus Ice Hockey Club.
Over the past two decades, the club has helped introduce approximately 30,000 boys and girls from ages 5-18 from underserved neighborhoods in central Ohio to the game of hockey. On average each year, the programming for 3,000 youth through CIHC's Learn to Play Hockey, Learn to Skate, and hockey team programs are made up of more than 65 percent minority participants and more than 25 percent female.
Video: Hockey Is For Everyone: John Haferman
And with the pandemic raging, it's been impossible to keep those numbers the same. For example, John Haferman, co-founder and executive director of the CIHC, said the club has been able to ice just three of the usual 13 teams that it would normally field at different age groups.
From the difficulties getting potential players to where they need to be to closures of Columbus Recreation and Parks facilities -- Haferman also serves as director of hockey for the city -- it's been a frustrating year for a program that has done so much for the youth in central Ohio.
"It's been disappointing," Haferman said. "The ones who really need our program are the ones who can't get there. There are a couple of families that are helping out with (transporting kids to events), but we're probably looking at 60 to 65 percent of our kids have that headache. All of our house teams -- Under-14 and younger, mites, peewees, squirts and bantams -- have not been able to do anything this year.
"There's certain levels of frustration that border on anger, but it doesn't do you any good to get mad."
The good news is that there could be light at the end of the tunnel. With the COVID-19 vaccine being distributed in Ohio, cases are dropping, with hope that more and more in-person activities -- such as CBJ games, which were approved for 10 percent capacity by the Ohio Department of Health last week -- can take place.
Having the chance to get back to full in-person activities would be boon to the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, and there is other help on the way. As part of the Blue Jackets' Hockey is for Everyone celebration, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP has pledged a $15,000 grant to help finance summer programming put on by the club.
Those initiatives include the CIHC's summer skating enrichment program, which helps youngsters with their skating abilities; street hockey programs that can accommodate thousands of kids each year; and a sticks in hands program that can allow youngsters the ability to continue playing hockey for fun outside of formal programming.
"It's actually huge because you don't know what others are thinking about cutting," Haferman said of the grant. "We don't have to worry. One of the biggest things that I think can happen from this program is at least getting sticks in (kids') hands. We talk about how you need to break down some barriers to create opportunities, and one of the best ways is getting them a hockey stick.
"If they don't have a hockey stick, how do you expect them to go and build passion for it? If we can get sticks and street hockey balls in their hands, that lets them go to the park and makes play a little bit easier."
That ability to help break down barriers is why Vorys is so excited to help out the organization. A longtime partner of the Blue Jackets, the law firm was looking for ways to deepen its ties to the Blue Jackets and the Columbus community, and its continued support of the Hockey is for Everyone platform was a perfect fit, said Vorys managing partner Michael Martz.
"The values and the thoughts behind Hockey is for Everyone align almost perfectly with some of our values here at Vorys," Martz said. "We're a champion of diversity and inclusion. We want to provide opportunities to people that they might not otherwise be exposed to, and that is what we picked up with the theme of Hockey is for Everyone. We're just absolutely thrilled to be a part of it and to help support it.
"And this year's example of being able to help an organization that is exposing hockey to kids that might not otherwise have the chance to play, it is a wonderful thing for us to be a part of it. Hopefully this just makes it bigger and better in every way."
During tonight's Hockey is for Everyone game, Haferman and the Columbus Ice Hockey Club were officially presented with a check for the grant money. The club's work and that of Haferman -- a finalist for the NHL's Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award last summer -- was also spotlighted in a video feature, all part of the annual celebration that shows the impact the sport can have in all facets of the community.
"It doesn't seem like Hockey is for Everyone has a shelf life," Martz said. "This is something that will be long-standing, and people will remember it from year-to-year. Of all the Blue Jackets memories I have, Hockey for Everyone is right up there. I also do remember when we swept Tampa Bay -- that was pretty good -- but Hockey is for Everyone nights are really memorable nights that inspire everybody in the community."
For Haferman and the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, the partnership is yet another sign that an organization that was founded to create opportunities just keeps getting bigger and better.
"What's nice is to be able to shine some light on the results of what people have been able to do," Haferman said. "It's such a great community and so collaborative. There's been people all over the place that have really helped us out. Anytime we ran into some issue, we thought there was no way we're going to stop doing this, and another door opened up and more people come in."