Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, along with Elliot Segal of The Elliot in the Morning Show, were back in the hallways of Washington, D.C.'s Hendley Elementary School recently providing students with more tools they will need for a successful academic year. Last November, the Washington Capitals trio and Segal gave 75 laptops and 45 tablets to the school that were donated by Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation. They used the computer donation as a cover for the real reason they were at the school - to surprise Hendley with a room makeover.
On Sept. 6, the players and Segal gathered at Hendley to help with the renovation of the school's gymnasium. Wilson and Segal got to work painting the white walls of the gym Capitals and Hendley red, while Backstrom and Holtby assisted Monumental Sports & Entertainment volunteers, who also lent a hand in the renovation, constructing the frames of the new metal bleachers. The renovation also included a remodel of the gym teacher's classroom and a scoreboard.
In addition, a new sound system was installed; shelving, an outdoor storage container and other storage solutions were assembled and organized; tables and chairs were donated; "HORNETS" and the So Kids Can and Capitals logos were incorporated into honeycomb artwork on the walls; a silhouette vinyl hockey player and basketball player were installed on the walls; inspirational sports quotes were also put onto the walls; additional gym equipment was donated; and every student at the school received two age-appropriate books in a Caps-branded bag.
During the 2018-19 season Holtby, Backstrom, Wilson and Segal partnered with Heart of America Foundation, a national nonprofit headquartered in the Washington, D.C., metro area, on a project dedicated to the prosperity of under-resourced communities.
"This is like home to me," said Backstrom, "and to be able to help out my community as much as I can - to give them a hand - means a lot."
Before the renovation, Hendley's gym was a vacant space, lacking basketball hoops, bleachers, scoreboards and speakers. It had not been painted in years and had outdated murals on the walls.
The renovation was funded by player and fan donations throughout the Capitals' 2018-19 season. Backstrom, Holtby, Wilson and Segal each made donations of $50 per Capitals regular season win and $100 per Capitals playoff win, with donations totaling more than $60,000 for the project. To date, So Kids Can has donated more than $460,000 to charity.
So Kids Can has impacted many young lives throughout the region dating back to 2008, when the organization was founded by Segal and former Capitals defensemen Mike Green. As the Capitals' roster has evolved, so have the players involved with So Kids Can. Backstrom and former Capitals forward Brooks Laich joined the program in 2011, followed by Holtby in 2015 and Wilson, compelled by the same urge to contribute to community change, in 2017.
Segal, speaking on the mission of So Kids Can, emphasized why it is all based on making kids' lives better. When it came to giving a gym a new life, Segal said the work allows kids "not only to play and have fun, but [also provides] the lessons that come along with being able to play and have fun: teamwork and respect."
After creating the new gym space, the players visited multiple classrooms, surprising students with backpacks filled with books. The players also read to kids, including the book Don't Let the Penguin Drive the Bus. One first-grade class also shared with players their latest lesson: they sounded out each corresponding letter on the front of Wilson's Capitals jersey.
As Wilson and Holtby filed out of the first-grade class, one young student, with a smile beaming across his face, said, "Wow. We're really part of something bigger."
"This is what it's all about," said Backstrom, reflecting on the experience, "to be able to make these kids happy and help them along the way as they grow."