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Community: Route 301 and the RecZone

by Katharine Kelley / Carolina Hurricanes
When I returned from a three-month backpacking trip across Western Europe nearly three years ago, my eyes were opened to a world of new cultures, history, perspectives and sights.

Katharine Kelley
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I walked along the same cobblestones as Julius Caesar in the Roman Forum (I even saw where he was burned…eerie). I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower where I re-constructed all of my hopelessly romantic scenes in my mind. I roamed around the Irish country side and managed to get a flat tire on a 30 mile solo bike trip. I saw Interlaken, Switzerland, from a free fall after jumping out of a helicopter over the Alps. I learned to appreciate art (the Sistine Chapel really is all that it’s built up to be) in Spain, France and Italy. The list goes on and on… I was fortunate enough to get a taste of 12 different countries, so it’s safe to say I was not in North Carolina anymore.

However, I was reminded of a valuable lesson last week – you don’t have to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to expose yourself to new cultures, history, life lessons or perspectives. It’s easy to forget, for me at least, what your own country or state has to offer. Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to travel through some of our state’s beautiful rural countryside with members of the Hurricanes/RBC Center staff to Halifax County to help launch a multi-dimensional educational initiative (started by our very own manager of community development/motivational consultant, Doris Barksdale). On a cultural note, I’ll never look at cotton the same. After driving through the area, I learned that this county is one of the largest cotton producers with the value of the crop/cotton valuing over $24.6 million (in 2005).

Nonetheless, the six-program education initiative, titled Mentoring through Sports, is a partnership among the Carolina Hurricanes, NC State University and Athletics, NC Central University and Halifax County schools. The program is designed to add value, incentives and unique programming to the existing curriculum. Three of the six programs will be launched this school year, and the remaining three programs will be instituted next year.

Last Thursday, we were there to kick off Pick Up A Book and Read, an already existing Carolina Hurricanes reading incentive program for 3rd-5th graders. We corralled the Hurricanes mascot, Stormy, and took him to two elementary schools, Aurelian Springs and Everetts, for an assembly and celebration of reading. Stormy, as always, stole the show, but students, teachers and administrators were all eager and enthusiastic about starting the reading program. We’ve registered 46 classrooms (across eight elementary schools in Halifax County) for the program, resulting in over 900 students challenging their reading abilities. This now stretches our existing Pick Up A Book And Read program to nearly 4,000 students across the state.

The Carolina Hurricanes are grateful to NC State and NCCU, who are providing volunteers and additional incentives to encourage students and teachers. Volunteers will help add a personal touch by initiating communication and encouragement through personal letters to each participating student. Volunteers will also be used in the other two programs launching this year: Electronic Shadowing (where students will electronically shadow and communicate with Carolina Hurricanes players) and Image Makers (where students are encouraged to dream big).

All in all, I did not have to jump out of a helicopter to observe NC from a different perspective. I only had to drive two hours to be out of the city and immersed in a different culture. While it is different, people are all the same. I learned that the kids, like any others, are sponges, and I could see their enthusiasm in the smiles and the genuine hugs with Stormy. Every kid raised their hand high when asked who would read the most pages. I saw teachers excited for good news being brought into their schools and classrooms when their county has been portrayed poorly in the media. Doris puts it perfectly; we are just happy and excited to be good neighbors.

Capital City Crew Update
For those of you who have been following our NHL Hockey is for Everyone team, the Capital City Crew, here’s a brief update. The team wrapped up their final on-ice practice at the RecZone this past Tuesday. However, while the kids were receiving their team windsuits to take home with them, Coach John Scott shared some good news. He announced that they did not actually finish their last on-ice session; rather they will have at least one more practice session on the RBC Center Ice next Tuesday (October 27th). It’s kind of a well-deserved wrap up showcase for the team. Eric Staal, who is responsible for outfitting 20 of the participants with full sets of equipment, will be on hand at the practice to run through some drills and coach a team during the scrimmage. We’ll have a detailed wrap up of the event next week.

The Capital City Crew will also be featured during a game in February 2010 – the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone month. Personally, I cannot believe how far these kids have come. If you told me they would be scrimmaging on the RBC Center ice after session 1 when they were learning how to skate, I wouldn’t have believed you. Many of these kids put any frustrations that come along with learning a new sport aside, stuck it out, and are truly a team. Even these kids are making it easy for me to learn about myself close to home rather than having to jump on a plane.

Merely taking a trip up NC Route 301 to Halifax County and venturing to the RecZone these past eight weeks has provided me with valuable insight into my own culture and the people that make it up that I know I did not get in Europe.

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