-- Three very special kids found themselves in Ottawa this weekend for the All-Star festivities, and their unique achievements are on par with any elite NHL player.
Neha Gupta, Wes Prankard, and Ishan Mandani were the winners of All-Star World Changers Contest. This is the first season for the awards, which were a partnership between the NHL, the National Hockey League Players' Association, and Free the Children – an organization that empowers youth to make a difference for their peers through education. Gupta, Prankard and Mandani were selected as the winners and were each awarded a trip to the 2012 NHL All-Star game in Canada's capital.
"I'm so excited to be chosen as one of the award winners for the All-Stars World Changers contest," Gupta said. "I was chosen for this because of my work with children. When I was 9 years old, I started helping underprivileged children in India and the U.S., and my charity (Empower Orphans) has supplied 15,000 children with proper education and health care, and most importantly, love."
The 15-year-old Pennsylvania native is looking forward to taking in as much as she can during her first visit north of the border.
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"I've never been to Canada -- to be part of such a big event and to see so many hockey players, and to see Drake perform will be amazing," she said. "Since I've been here, I've met so many people doing great things."
Prankard, 13, found himself in Ottawa this weekend after receiving inspiration from an unexpected place.
"About two years ago, I started my charity," he said. "My dad showed me pictures of this place called Attawapiskat, in Northern Canada. It's horrible that people are living in third-world conditions right in our own province. I decided to do something -- I raised some money to build a playground there, and I bought some items for the homeless shelter in their community. So I've been doing a lot of charity work to bring equality to the northern communities where there is none.
"I'm so honored to be here and to be chosen. (I'm from Niagara Falls) but have family in Ottawa, so I've been here several times, but I've never been to the (Governor General's residence). The thing I was looking forward to the most was meeting (Free the Children co-founder) Craig Kielburger. It was amazing. I've been looking forward to it my whole life and it was definitely inspiring and I can't wait to see what else is happening – especially the All-Star Game. I'm really looking forward to that."
The third winner of the award, Mandani, found his calling in providing care and company to the elderly.
"When I was 9 years old, I started volunteering at a hospice, and I would save up all my money every year to buy gifts for the residents over there," said Mandani, now 15. "It really showed me how lonely and isolated these seniors were. After that, I went to Mease Hospital (in Dunedin, Florida) and I started shopping for immobile seniors in independent homes. There are so many touching stories that came about. One time a lady asked me, 'Can you buy me a gallon of milk?', so my mother and I went to her house right away. When we opened the fridge we already saw two gallons of milk. When we asked her why, she responded that she was very lonely and wanted someone to talk to.
"It's stories like these that keep me motivated. It helped me to initiate the Grandparents Program that allows students from high schools to visit elderly people at assisted living facilities."
Mandani is a hockey neophyte, but that hasn't stopped him from getting into the spirit of the weekend.
"This is my first time in Ottawa, and I'm really excited to be seeing the All-Star Game," he said. "I'm not really into hockey, so I'm learning about the sport. I'm looking forward to meeting the players and having a lot of fun. This has been a wonderful experience for all of us."