For students at Edmonton’s Inner City High School, this past year has brought about a lot of change including the relocation to a new building and a much needed $1 million renovation this summer. One thing that has stayed consistent however is the holiday tradition of sharing lunch and memories with the Edmonton Oilers.
The entire Oilers team paid a special visit to Inner City High Tuesday to partake in the annual Christmas Luncheon with students and staff. After much applause was doled out as the players made their way into the gymnasium and sat amongst the rows of student-studded tables, brief speeches were made by the school’s Principal Joe Cloutier, Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation’s (EOCF) Executive Director Natalie Minckler and the Oilers team Captain, Shawn Horcoff.
“It means a lot to be here. I think it’s a good sign that each year we seem to recognize a few more students and I think for us, it’s a really important cause,” said Horcoff. “I don’t think you can give any child a more valuable gift than the gift of education and I think just coming here and talking to them and just seeing how enthusiastic they are about the school itself and the direction that it’s going, it’s great.”
Following speeches, everyone filled their plates and players and students proceeded to swap stories and share in a laugh or two.
“It gets better and better, you get a chance to interact with the players as opposed to just watching them because the way they are on T.V. is not the way they are in real life,” said Inner City High student, Cheyenne Moses. “They get out of their hockey personas to actually come and do this for us every year and I think that’s really great.”
For Cheyenne and many other students, realizing that they have a lot in common with the players and share similar interests is truly inspiring; something Horcoff was hoping to accomplish.
“You want them to realize that we’re just normal people and the reason we’re in the NHL is because we choose to do something and work harder than other people at it. If you do that in anything you do in life then you’re going to be successful no matter what. We just meet so many great kids here, kids that have been in some difficult situations in the past but want to do something in their lives in a positive way and they want to change the situation that they’re in. Anything we can do to help them out is just fantastic.”
A year ago this December, the EOCF purchased a $2 million building for Inner City High.
“Their previous location was being demolished and they had nowhere to go,” said Minckler. “They were homeless and for this population, that was such a significant piece because many of them do come from a homeless situation and when their school was being torn down, it was just one more disappointment that these kids had to deal with.”
Since opening its doors in January, 2011, enrolment numbers have been up and attendance has escalated. This past summer, major renovations were done to the building including a brand new kitchen facility, upgraded gym and four new soundproof recording studios for students to explore their art and talent. Having this new building and feeling the support of the Edmonton Oilers is something Cloutier says motivates the students.
“The students feel proud. They really feel like people care about them and that’s really important to them. They feel good about where they are whereas their situation before just wasn’t an inspiration. Now the building we’re at is nice and clean and it’s bright in here; they feel supported and they respond.”
While the holidays aren’t always the easiest time of the year for Inner City High students, sharing in an afternoon of memories with the team helps make the festive season a special one and is something they won’t soon forget.