When 10-year old Marco Solis boarded the bus earlier this week that was bound for the Irvine Spectrum Center, he knew he wasn't attending an ordinary field trip.
"I was so excited," the fifth grader said with a huge grin. "You should have felt my heart when I was on the bus."
Marco had plenty to be enthusiastic about as he and 14 of his fellow students from the Santa Ana-based nonprofit, The Wooden Floor, were treated to a holiday experience to remember - a shopping spree at Target hosted by the Anaheim Ducks.
"It was really fun, and I don't think I'm ever going to have anything like this ever again," Marco said. "I had a Duck buy me stuff, and I don't have to pay for it. I'm very happy."
Marco was accompanied on the shopping trip by Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle, who helped the eager tween select some clothes, shoes and art supplies, but not before Marco picked out some toys to give to his siblings for Christmas.
"I'm sure they're all going to be thrilled," Guhle said. "Marco has been great in thinking of [his siblings] first. He's put some of his own gifts to the side to make room for theirs. I'm sure they're really going to enjoy what he brings home for them."
Wearing classic Mighty Ducks-themed holiday sweaters, Guhle was joined at the event by Ducks players Carter Rowney, Devin Shore and Erik Gudbranson, along with Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins and Ducks Director of High Performance, Dr. Jeremy Bettle. Accompanied by their wives or significant others, as well as Ducks staff members and Anaheim Ducks corporate partner TCL, the afternoon of giving provided an unforgettable experience for the 15 students and their families.
"It's good to see that we're doing this type of thing," Guhle said. "It's very important to give back to the community. Hopefully it's inspiring for [Marco]. Anything is possible for him. I think he's going to be a successful kid."
An arts-based youth development program founded in 1983, The Wooden Floor uses the power of dance to reach underserved youth and their families in the Orange County community. Through afterschool programs that include dance education, tutoring and family support, the organization provides opportunities that transform the lives of the nearly 500 students it serves annually, thereby working to break the cycle of poverty.
As a result of their programming, 100 percent of students who graduate from The Wooden Floor each year immediately enroll in higher education, providing kids like Marco the foundation and confidence to work towards a successful future.
"Dance is really fun, but it's not just something that I do for fun," Marco said. "It's something that's going to be important in my life."
This is the 12th consecutive year the Ducks have partnered with The Wooden Floor for this unique holiday event, and it continues to be an experience that extends far beyond providing gifts for under the Christmas tree.
"This looks like a shopping spree, but it's so much more," said Chief Executive Officer at The Wooden Floor, Dawn S. Reese. "The impact of our organization, and today's event with the Ducks specifically, is to provide hope and opportunity. When the students meet adults who are doing great things, it inspires them and gives them hope and possibility of what they might want to accomplish. So it's bigger than a shopping spree. This will be a lasting memory for them. Both the students and the players and their spouses come out changed at the end."
As 11-year old Sara Velasquez placed much needed clothes and jeans in her shopping cart, she became overwhelmed by the generosity of the Ducks and those who took the time to make her holiday season a memorable one.
"I'm really happy because this is life-changing, and I've never had this much freedom to buy anything," Sara said. "It was an honor to meet the hockey players."
As the shopping spree concluded, TCL had another surprise for the students, as each of them went home with a 40" TCL Roku TV and a pair of TCL wireless headphones. The screams of shock and surprise from the students said it all.
For Eakins, who attended the event for the first time, the most impactful part of the day was watching the students' generosity in putting others before themselves.
"This is just incredible, and I get emotional talking about it," Eakins said. "We brought these kids here to shop for them, and right away they are getting stuff for their brothers, their sisters, their moms and their dads. It's amazing how they think of others first.
"For me, what I hope these kids remember…is that the most important thing is to help others. And they're already leading the charge by what I saw today. Hopefully, whether it's two weeks from now, two years from now or 20 years from now, they will remember back to this day and think, hey, that organization helped me, and now I'm going to help someone else."
For more information about The Wooden Floor, visit thewoodenfloor.org.