Eric Godard took few hours out of his Tuesday afternoon to visit Pittsburgh’s Children’s Institute. Godard loves these visits. He doesn’t do it for attention, or to soften his tough-guy image. For him it’s all about the kids, and his visit showed a true bond between him and the children of the institute.
“It’s all about those kids and those families,” Godard said. “It’s all about having some fun.”
“It’s all about having some fun.” - Eric Godard
The Children’s Institute's Squirrel Hill campus consists of a hospital and a school with several hundred children enrolled. The Children's Institute caters to both physical and mental development and rehabilitation.
“It’s not a great situation, if a kid’s got to be in the hospital,” Godard said. “If they can have fun for one day maybe that will make them smile for that day.”
The children were certainly grinning upon Godard’s arrival at the institute.
His first stop was a classroom, where a small group of young children were busy coloring pictures. An instant smile appeared on the children’s faces when the big winger walked into the room, wearing his No. 28 jersey.
Godard was quick to introduce himself to each child, learning all their names and making sure he shook each one’s hand. Once the children got over the initial shock and shyness, they enthusiastically showed Godard their art projects.
“You’re good at that,” Godard said, as a student handed him a colored page. “I always go outside the lines.”
The excitement grew for the students as each one showed Godard a crayon box, or a drawing of a pumpkin. Soon high-fives were going all around, and the kids were jumping out of their seats to ask him a question or show him some of their work.
The Institute’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Helene Conway-Long escorted Godard throughout his visit and looked on while he played with the children.
“Look at those kids,” Conway-Long said. “The smiles say it all.”
Godard then went to visit another classroom, this one housing some of the older students at the school.
The smiles were even bigger in this classroom, as there were several hockey fans in the group. Godard made his way around the room much the same way he did the previous room.
He then sat in a chair with the students circled around him. The students bombarded Godard with questions. They could barely contain their excitement.
“What position do you play? How many goals did you score last year? What age did you start playing hockey? How long have you played for the Penguins? How did they put your name on the Stanley Cup?”
One student even asked Godard if he had a girlfriend. The room erupted with laughter.
Godard made sure that each student’s question was answered, and he made it a point to give each student time with him.
He talked about sports and hockey equipment, among other things, with the students. Godard even allowed the children to check out his beard stubble.
“Let’s give it up for the special guest,” one student announced, brimming with joy. “Let’s give it up for the Penguins.”
The room burst into applause.
It was then time for Godard to move on to a third classroom.
“Do you kids like hockey?” Godard asked as he entered the room.
The children responded with an enthusiastic “yeah.”
Godard once again made his way around the room.
“I’m going to tell my mom,” one student said, beaming about the visit.
Godard chatted and posed for pictures with the students and teachers in the room, with one child running over to give him a hug for the photo.
“I think you all know what the talk at the dinner table will be tonight,” Conway-Long said.
The visit then shifted to the hospital wing of the institute.
Godard barely had a chance to look at the “Welcome Pens” banner hanging in the hallway before he was surrounded by a group of patients.
He posed for photos and signed newspapers and posters before entering the hospital’s activity room.
The room had patients of all ages painting, playing video games and playing with toys.
He walked through the room, once again making sure he met every patient. It wasn’t long before the air hockey table in the room called his name. A young patient had challenged him to a game.
Godard lost, 7-3.
“I feel awkward beating a Penguin,” the patient laughed. “But it was fun beating him. I don’t take it easy on anybody.”
“He’s so interactive with the kids. It’s just wonderful. You can see how they respond to him one-on-one" - Helene Conway-Long, Vice President of Institutional Advancement
He then joined a patient at the painting table. They were going to decorate a ceiling tile. It’s a tradition the hospital has. Each patient is given the opportunity to decorate a ceiling tile for the activity room during their stay.
Godard, and the patient, whose name was Diamond, selected colors and decided that flowers would be the theme of the tile. The two painted flowers together, and it wasn’t long before Diamond was painting Godard’s hand blue so that he could leave his handprint on the tile.
After the painting was done, Godard joined in more activities with the patients, playing with toys and sitting on the floor to give the young children hugs.
He posed for numerous pictures with the patients and staff, including one that had him sit with a child in front of a kitchen play set. She held a teapot, and he held a tiny teacup.
“He’s so interactive with the kids,” Conway-Long said. “It’s just wonderful. You can see how they respond to him one-on-one.”
Godard would have stayed there all day if he had his way, but it was time to go. Many more pictures were taken, and autographs signed on the way out.
“It’s kind of bad for morale getting whooped in air hockey,” Godard joked as he left the institute. “But it was good. It was a lot of fun.
“It’s a good feeling.”