Top Golf, Youth Villages:
Strolling into the Top Golf event with Youth Villages, the three Preds players slipped their jerseys over their heads and each chose a bay. Shaking everyone's hand and introducing themselves, Miikka Salomaki, Craig Smith and Austin Watson instantly seemed comfortable with their new friends.
Across three golf bays were boys from Youth Villages - a local, private nonprofit dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully - eager to enjoy an afternoon with their friends, new and old.
"It's nice to see some smiles," Craig Smith said, as he handed his club off to one of his golf partners, who just minutes earlier had been in cahoots with Smith as they tried aiming for the golf cart patrolling the range.
"Providing opportunities like this is huge - I never got to hang out with a professional athlete when I was growing up," Smith said. "Just being here with adults in their lives is a unique experience for them and something they can take with them for the rest of their lives."
Youth Villages serves around 5,000 Middle Tennessee youth each year and on any given day will serve 700 local Metro Nashville children. Their programs range from in-home treatment and 24-hour help lines, to mentoring, foster care and adoption services and everything in between, like outings at Top Golf with professional hockey players.
"The majority of our kids don't get to do things normal kids get to do," Senior Manager at Development and Communications with Youth Villages Lyndsay Wilkinson said.
"They get to do something else, go back to school Monday after fall break and say they played golf with the Nashville Predators. Some of them have never swung a golf club and getting to interact with professional athletes who want to get to know them is amazing. They'll always remember this."
The Nashville Predators Foundation has been partnering with youth Villages for years, offering grants, donated tickets to Preds games and volunteer opportunities.
"Seeing the Preds interact with our boys just shows the strong partnership and the love and appreciation our boys have for your organization."
- Natalie Aronson
Martha O'Bryan Center:
Anthony Bitetto may be used to slinging pizzas, but he can put on the salesman's charm handing out tacos, too.
"What, you don't want any beans?" said Bitetto, coaxing a young diner at the Martha O'Bryan Center in his distinctive New York accent. "They're really, really good."
Bitetto, a fourth-year Nashville Predators defenseman, and goaltender Juuse Saros served tacos to hungry children Monday afternoon at the Martha O'Bryan Center's Kid's Cafe. The volunteer service at the East Nashville non-profit organization is part of a series of community relations projects put on by the Predators at various locations this week.
"Sometimes you take for granted the things you have. This is a special occasion where you can really help out, see the kids in here and put some smiles on their faces," said Bitetto, sporting a pair of latex gloves and his own big grin.
For more than 120 years, the Martha O'Bryan Center has aimed to empower children and families in poverty to better their lives through education, employment and fellowship. The weekly Kids Cafe gives youngsters a free hot meal when they otherwise may not have access to one.
"The biggest thing is just being a one-stop shop for any need somebody locally here might have," Martha O'Bryan Center Development Associate Sam Helgeson said. "If you're going through some challenges and you come to our door, we can help you or get you in touch with somebody that can."
The Nashville Predators Foundation and the Predators family are dedicated to giving back to communities in Middle Tennessee and furthering excitement for the Smashville hockey experience.
- AJ Mazzolini
King's Daughters Day Center:
Matt Irwin attracted quite a crowd for his services.
The Predators defenseman pulled a wooden wagon around the makeshift racetrack - two children at a time - racing around the bends, laughter filling the air.
And once a pair of the preschool-age participants at King's Daughters Day Center got a ride through the backyard play area, everyone wanted a chance.
"Some of the guys in the locker room were saying it's good, you'll be able to hone your skills," Irwin, whose wife is pregnant with their first child, laughed. "It's just fun to be out here with the kids any time, chasing them around and seeing what they do on a daily basis."
He and teammate Cody McLeod made the trip to Madison for a visit with the children to decorate pumpkins, play tabletop hockey, and of course, orchestrate wagon rides.
Founded in 1965, the King's Daughters Child Development Center provides child care and educational programs for children from financially challenged families. The Predators Foundation has provided a number of grants to the center, helping to enrich the young minds who call the center home during the daytime.
"We just can't express what it means to us to have the extra funding to bring these things to the children that need it most," Executive Director Candyee Goode said. "We wouldn't be able to do it without you."
- Brooks Bratten
Rita's Italian Ice:
The massive spire of frozen custard toppled over the sides of the cone as Preds defenseman P.K. Subban held it under the machine at Rita's Italian Ice in Nolensville.
The only thing bigger than the frozen treat Subban stretched to pass over the counter was the smile on the face of eight-year-old David. Which was better? Meeting his hero or receiving this much deliciousness right at dinnertime?
The line out the door and around the corner indicated David wouldn't be the only Preds fan faced with deciding between those two questions that evening. More than one hundred Predators fans made purchases at Rita's on Monday, both for the chance to have their dessert scooped by Subban or Viktor Arvidsson and the opportunity to see 20 percent of the proceeds go back to the Predators Foundation.
"It was great, it was really fun to meet a lot of the fans leaving out in that area," Subban said. "I only live seven minutes from there, but I didn't know about [Rita's] until that trip, so it was awesome to experience that too."
- Thomas Willis
Pinewood Social, Tennessee Baptist Children's Home
Pins crashed to the ground and cheers rang out as a young girl from Tennessee Baptist Children's Home received her first strike. Celebratory high-fives came from all around, including new captain Roman Josi and fellow Swiss-native Kevin Fiala who traded in their skates for bowling shoes.
Barely having time to bowl, Josi and Fiala were busy lifting children in the air and running with kids through the bowling alley.
"Hi! Sorry, one second," Josi tells the line of children waiting for him to swing them in his arms.
To the parents he joked, "This is a workout!"
Also known for his work outside the hockey rink, Josi knows the importance of the Predators community.
"I think a lot of kids come to our games and look up to us, and we definitely want to be a good role model and be a part of the community. The kids are obviously excited, but it's a lot of fun for us, too," he said.
Fiala echoed his teammate, saying: "It's awesome to be here with all the kids and parents. We're thankful that they support us. We just want to give something back."
Tennessee Baptist Children's Home is a non-profit ministry, whose mission is to help families in crisis. By connecting foster care and residency opportunities to children in need, Tennessee Baptist Children's Home has helped thousands of children and families throughout Tennessee.
"We try to treat our kids like any other normal child. Having an opportunity to hang out and do something that they may not have been able to do from where they come from - it's a big deal," Jeff McGinnis, TBC Lead Ministry Advancement Officer, said. "It's great to have the Predators here. It's been a great partnership."
- Keely Ninness