SUNRISE, Fla. - Sydney Delcontivo doesn't experience hockey games like most teenagers.
A visually impaired student at Lighthouse of Broward, Sydney was given a tour of BB&T Center on Dec. 28, before the Florida Panthers hosted the Philadelphia Flyers. From the sound of skates slicing into the ice to the frigid cold air that filled her lungs, the inquisitive 13-year-old absorbed every moment of the morning despite the visual limitations of her condition.
"It was really amazing to come and meet everyone," Sydney said. "I really had a great time."
With the help of a white cane, Sydney toured the arena after morning skate with her mother, PJ, and Lighthouse of Broward's Executive Director Ellyn Drotzer. Along the way, the group was able to meet with Panthers coach Bob Boughner and several players, including center Vincent Trocheck.
"I got to know what it was like to be a hockey player for the Florida Panthers," Sydney said. "Getting to come into the arena with my mom and meeting everyone; having a puck signed by Vince, the center. I enjoyed it."
Founded in 1973, the Lighthouse of Broward provides training and rehabilitation geared toward blind or visually impaired adults and children like Sydney. There are more than 125,000 blind or severely visually impaired people living in Broward County, with Lighthouse serving more than 2,700 of them per year.
Through the organization's specially-designed programs, Sydney has not only able to gain a strong sense of inclusion and community, but also receive numerous helpful learning tools and aids during several of her critical development stages in which visual interaction would typically be necessary.
"Lighthouse has been very helpful to me over the years," Sydney said. "They've helped me to grow as a person and helped me learn life skills. They've helped meet new people, people with similar eye issues like I do. It's been great to find out that there's more people like me and I'm not the only one so that I don't feel alone."
The core curriculum at Lighthouse of Broward is broken down into two main programs: A Children's Program and an Adult Program. In addition to helping visually impaired students like Sydney, the Children's Program also serves as a support tool for parents who want to help their children grow beyond the limitation of their impairment and succeed.
"We're just a very small part of Sydney's journey," Drotzer said. "Obviously her parents are rock stars and the school system does an incredible job."
In an effort to support their continuing efforts in serving the blind and visually impaired, the Florida Panthers Foundation Community Champions Grant Program, presented by Moss Construction and the Moss Foundation, awarded $25,000 to Lighthouse of Broward during Florida's win over Philadelphia.
"I want to be successful in life," Sydney said. "I think Lighthouse can help me get very far."
And should she ever want to return, it's safe to say Sydney now knows her way around BB&T Center.
"She has been with us since she was a small, young person and now she's entering high school," Drotzer said of Sydney's growth. "To watch her navigate a massive stadium like this is heartwarming."
If you'd like to donate or learn more about Lighthouse of Broward, click HERE.