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Hamhuis goes to school

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

If practice makes perfect, then Dan Hamhuis couldn’t have been more prepared for his recent visit to Britannia Elementary School in Vancouver.

With two daughters at home (Anna, a two-and-a-half-year-old, and Morgan, an 11-month-old), Hamhuis is a natural when it comes to story time. On nights when he’s not guarding the Canucks end of the ice and helping the team to the lowest goals against average in the Western Conference, he can be found, books in hand, daughters on each knee, reciting bedtime stories.

This reading expertise came in handy on January 25th when Hamhuis volunteered a few hours of his time to read and build crafts with more than 40 kids ranging in age from four to seven in StrongStart Room 103 – a nut free zone – at Brittania.

If you’ve been in Hamhuis’ shoes and understand how intimidating reading to such an audience is, not to mention all their picture-taking mothers, you know there’s no room for error. With that in mind, Hamhuis brought Anna’s favourite book along with him, the 40-page hardcover Marley Goes to School, by John Grogan.

The Hamhuis’ have a golden retriever named Georgia at home, so the Marley books are a big hit, so much so that dad changes the names in the book to include Anna, Morgan and Georgia.

That personal touch wasn’t an option with so many kids hanging on his every word during his visit, but he didn’t disappoint with his delivery as Hamhuis changed his voice as it suited Marley’s antics and he took the time to point out things on each page to keep the kids captivated.

When Hamhuis’ hockey career is over, there’s definitely a storytelling job with his name on it.

“I really enjoy this,” said Hamhuis. “Some of these kids don’t get the opportunity to read a lot of books so to be able to come here and spend some time with them and share some stories and have the chance to share a favourite from our house with these kids was special. It was great to see the smiles on their faces and they seemed very attentive and drawn to the books.”

After Marley was named the teacher’s pet to end book number one, Hamhuis, foreseeing a dip in excitement as the kids tired, stepped it up to another level with an animal popup book that had everyone awestruck.

Hands shot up as he asked for a volunteer to turn the page and reveal the popup monkey and Victor was ecstatic to have been chosen. Gorgia then flipped open a zebra, Maria a giraffe and Aiden a hippopotamus as Hamhuis made everyone’s day, including Jean Rasmussen, director of the Canucks Family Education Centre (CFEC).

“Thrilling, it’s absolutely thrilling,” Rasmussen said of Hamhuis’ visit. “The buzz around here is one of excitement, when Dan was reading to the kids you could see that the parents were very engaged as well. I think it shows the kids that the Canucks and the whole community really care about what happens to them and Dan demonstrated that by coming and being part of their lives.”

Hamhuis was raised surrounded by literature and that has served him well throughout life; he still enjoys a good book now and again, although it's not often he can get his hands on something for readers over the age of three.

“We spent a lot of time, especially with out oldest daughter, reading her a lot of stories right from when she was young and she really enjoys it and I really enjoy reading to her. It’s helped with her vocabulary and with so many areas of her life and even with her imagination.”

Reading helps with every facet of life and the Canucks Family Education Centre is in place to ensure that adults who have not completed high school or new immigrants that have not had an opportunity to upgrade their English can improve their skills so they feel comfortable talking to school teachers, working in the community and feel comfortable about their lives in Canada.

“If you can’t read, you can’t function in your life,” said Rasmussen. “It’s the difference between having success with an individual, a child and a family, or not. And there’s a bottom line, if we don’t have literate citizens in this country, we’re not going to be able to move forward, so it’s absolutely essential.”

CFEC opened in 2002 after the Canucks recognized a need to improve family literacy in Greater Vancouver and now delivers four targeted programs serving over 500 children and families in seven elementary school literacy centres in Vancouver's eastside.

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