Cam Fowler's gratitude runs deep for the game that has given him so much.
And with the belief that to whom much is given, much is required, the Ducks defenseman, who has played his entire 10-year NHL career here in Orange County, is working to give back to the community that has embraced him.
"All the things in my life have come from hockey," Fowler said. "So I want to spread a little bit of that and hopefully get involved in more communities around Southern California and just see if we can kind of spread the joy of the game the best we can."
In response, Fowler and his wife Jasmine felt the time was right to formalize their support of the growth of the game locally. And C4Kids does just that by providing access and opportunities for youth to learn, play and love the sport of hockey.
"The community of Orange County has done so much for us, so it was really important for us to try and give back here," Jasmine said.
Through a number of different initiatives, C4Kids is partnering with established programs supported by the Anaheim Ducks Foundation to bring kids closer to the game.
C4Kids has already made an impact by teaming up with Find Your Grind (findyourgrind.com) to provide scholarships to kids who want to play hockey and are in need of financial assistance. Fowler also regularly enhances this experience for a number of recipient families by hosting them in a suite at Honda Center during Ducks home games.
Additionally, and as a nod to the many hours he spent playing ball hockey in his neighborhood as a kid, Fowler hosted the inaugural C4Kids Ball Hockey Bonanza at Great Park Ice last fall, a one-day pickup style street hockey tournament for beginners who are growing in their skills and love for the game.
The most recent C4Kids partnership area is with the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation and Education). The Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey Program provides an in-school physical education module for local fourth graders to learn the sport of street hockey. As an extension of the curriculum, C4Kids is providing all students who complete the program a stick and ball to take home, allowing them to continue playing the sport in their own neighborhoods.
"It was a huge part of my childhood," said Fowler of playing street hockey. "Any time I had the chance, I was playing with my buddies. Honestly, any time I wasn't playing hockey or practicing with my team, I was playing some kind of mini sticks or street hockey. I loved it so much, and I was always active in that way."
As a kick-off to their support of the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey Program, the two made a recent surprise visit to Beechwood School in Fullerton to pass out sticks and balls to nearly 100 fourth graders who are program participants and are getting their start in the sport.
Fowler and his wife then joined the students as they put their gifts to use in pick-up games and at skills stations. For Fowler, being at the school and handing out the street hockey equipment in person was an important component of their support.
"Interacting with the kids is a major part of it for us," Fowler said. "Anything you do kind of behind the scenes, you hope that it helps the kids in the best way possible. But [Jasmine] and I wanted to be a little bit more hands on. It's fun for us to see the kids' excitement. That brings a lot of joy to us."
Beechwood fourth graders Gus and Karis are both playing street hockey for the first time through the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program and were thrilled to receive their own gear to use at home as they practice for the upcoming S.C.O.R.E. Street Hockey Shootout Tournament hosted at Honda Center this spring.
"I'm very happy that I got a stick, because I don't have one," Gus said. "I definitely will practice."
"I'm really excited with this because I'm going to practice with it a lot," Karis added. "I'm looking forward to the tournament. I've been working really hard."
Beechwood is one of 11 Fullerton School District campuses that is a Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program partner school, and Beechwood teacher Alison Garcia, who was instrumental in bringing the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program to the district 10 years ago, was overwhelmed by the support of Fowler and C4Kids.
"What the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program does already impacts the students, but now that we have C4Kids and the students are getting sticks and balls, these kids can play at home," Garcia said. "And I can't imagine a greater impact the sport of hockey would have then having an actual player, someone the students magnify as a hero, come and talk to them about the craft that he loves."
The street hockey equipment donation is expected to reach approximately 7,000 students this year alone, and C4Kids will continue to pursue ways to engage with children and provide more access and opportunities for them to play hockey. For Fowler, it's all about paying it forward - for the love of the game and the growth of the sport.
"The thing with C4Kids in general is there are so many avenues we can take to help affect kids," Fowler said. "And that's what we're in this to do. The options are endless in how we can help, and we hope to impact as many kids as we can."