By Jason Lockhart
|Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo visit with Justin at Schneider Children's Hospital. |
While the Islanders are known for playing hockey, they do some of their best work off the ice. On Wednesday afternoon following practice, the players split up and traveled to meet children at eight Long Island hospitals.
From the moment the players stepped into the hospitals, their goal was to make a difference in the lives of children who are suffering from various illnesses
At Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, Bill Guerin, Chris Campoli, Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo
were greeted by more than a dozen children in a large common room that included toys that the players and their wives purchased at Toys ‘R’ Us earlier in the month. This is the second year in which the players donated money to purchase half of the gifts.
“It came full circle today for those of us who went shopping,” said Guerin, who shopped for some of the gifts with his wife Kara at Toys ‘R’ Us. “We had a fun time picking out the presents and it’s even more exciting to give them away.”
Guerin, Campoli, Comeau and Okposo sat down with Aidan and Julio to play some tag. The two kids were thrilled to be playing with the Islanders players. Young Tyler also brightened when the foursome walked into the room.
“It was really nice because Tyler has been in the hospital for a couple of days and most of his family is far away in Suffolk,” said Tyler’s mother Terri. “It was something exciting for him.”
Meanwhile, Andy Hilbert and Richard Park met with Little Saint Nick Foundation gift provider, Ray Mohler for the third year in a row at St. Mary’s Hospital in Bayside. They were joined by Mike Comrie. Mohler helps donate toys to other children in need.
“It’s great to see a familiar face for this event,” said Hilbert. “Ray has done some wonderful things to help other children in need. To help at such a young age is really remarkable.”
Doug Weight has taken part in many hospital visits throughout his career, but this was his first with the Islanders. He joined Mark Streit
and recent call-up Ben Walter at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola.
“No matter what team I’ve played for, the players have always been big supporters of going to see kids at local hospitals,” said Weight. “We try to do what we can to help in the community.”
Following initial greetings in common rooms in the hospitals, many of the players then went room-to-room providing children with gifts. Most importantly, they were there to say hi and show their support.
“When the Islanders come there’s a much different energy here,” said Pam Carlton, the Music and Special Events Coordinator at Schneider Children’s Hospital. “The guys are so eager to be here and be with the children. They’re very gracious and we’re really grateful to have them. When they go in the room and the family is struggling and been there for months at a time, it’s really special gift.”
While some players like Guerin and Weight have visited many different hospitals to talk to kids in need, others had their first experience. While playing for the University of Minnesota, Okposo and his team went to a local Ronald McDonald House and while at home, he has helped his mother at homeless shelters, but this was his first time visiting sick children at hospitals.
“Just to see their positive reactions has been great,” said Okposo. “They’ve been really happy to see us. Everybody’s spirits here seem to be uplifted. Talking to different people everyone appears to be in good moods and that’s great to see.”
The annual Islanders hospital visits, which have become a long-standing tradition for the organization is just one of the many ways the team tries to give back to their loyal fans. On Tuesday, the Islanders Business Club members donated money to help fund a shopping spree at Modell’s for 50 children.
“These people support us through thick and thin and at times like this they could use a smile or an opportunity to cheer up,” said Campoli. “We’re in the position to help, and we’re happy to do so. We just want to give them a chance for a moment to forget about what they’re going through, especially around the holiday season.”
What is most rewarding about these hospital visits is that they are two-sided affairs. As much as the children benefit from meeting professional athletes, the players take as much away from the experience as the kids.
“Obviously the kids get something out of our visit, and they’re happy, but we get a lot out of it too,” said Guerin It’s very gratifying at this time of year and fun for all of us. The Islanders in particular are good at getting out into the communities. We do things like this pretty often. It’s extremely important that we continue to do this because we understand that we’re role models.”
The following hospitals were visited on Wednesday: Schneider Children’s Hospital
in New Hyde Park – Bill Guerin, Chris Campoli, Blake Comeau and Kyle OkposoNassau University Medical Center
in East Meadow – Andy Sutton, Freddy Meyer and Joey MacDonaldWinthrop University Hospital
in Mineola – Doug Weight, Mark Streit
and Ben WalterStony Brook Hospital
in Stony Brook Tim Jackman, Yann Danis and Mitch FritzGood Samaritan Hospital
in West Islip – Brendan Witt, Jon Sim and Josh BaileyHenry Viscardi School: The National Center for Disabilities
in Albertson – Trent Hunter, Thomas Pock and SparkySt. Mary’s Children’s Hospital
in Bayside – Richard Park, Mike Comrie and Andy HilbertNorth Shore University Hospital
in Manhasset – Sean Bergenheim and Nate Thompson Click here
to watch IslandersTV video from last year when the players and their wives shopped for gifts at Toys ‘R’ Us