As things continue to get back to normal, the Panthers are once again opening their doors.
This summer, the organization was proud to host two separate groups from the Lighthouse of Broward and Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired at BB&T Center for a hands-on experience that included a ball hockey clinic, tour of the arena and an engaging career panel.
With both organizations having already received Community Champions Grants from the Florida Panthers Foundation in the past, the Panthers saw these events as an opportunity to continue nurturing already strong relationships.
"The last year has been really tough for us," said John Colombo, Senior Director of the Florida Panthers Foundation and Community Relations. "I think one of things we always hope to do is be out in the community and really engage with the kids and introduce the sport of hockey to as many people as possible. So having this experience being able to have the kids out here at the arena and playing hockey again, it makes it so worthwhile."
A little over 10 students from Lighthouse of Broward came to BB&T Center on June 30 and participated in a hockey clinic which utilized balls with internal bells and special noise-emitting machines to help guide them towards the net to score goals. They also toured the arena and heard from employees about their day-to-day roles and how they support the organization.
"We just want them to enjoy and know that there are things out there that they can learn from, have fun and be a part of their lives in the future," said Kara Troy, a teacher with Lighthouse of Broward.
Sydney Delcontivo has been with Lighthouse of Broward since the age of 2 and dreams of one day working in hockey. The Panthers have always had a great relationship with Delcontivo, as she previously visited BB&T Center in 2018. During that visit, she watched morning skate, met with players in the locker room and took in a game.
"I want to eventually be a general manager," said Delcontivo. "That's the end goal, but I would be happy with any position in management. I just love it and my parents have always told me to do what you love and, yeah, I'm just sticking with my passion."
On July 6, guests from Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired came to the BB&T Center for a similar afternoon that also featured a ball hockey clinic and career panel with staff.
"It's great," said Florian Utchitel, Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired. "It's something that might have been foreign to them before, but now I think we've created a bunch of Panther fans."
Utchitel added that for anyone who has someone close to them with a visual impairment that "Miami Lighthouse of the Blind and Visually Impaired is here for you. We offer different types of services to help different individuals to prepare for independent living."
In 2019, the Florida Panthers Foundation Community Champions Grant contributed to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired's new mobile eye unit, which travels to local schools and has already offered free eye exams to more than 24,000 disadvantaged students.
Non-profit organizations that serve to help the visually impaired youth of South Florida, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired was founded in 1931, while Lighthouse of Broward was founded in 1973. Both organizations pride themselves on assisting those who struggle with a visual impairment and give them the necessary skills to be able to thrive as adults in the future.