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Ericsson brings children, animals together

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings

Jonathan Ericsson's 52 for the Zoo campaign provides underprivileged children with the opportunity to attend the Animals After Dark Tour at the Detroit Zoo. The event takes place during the summer and consists of guided tours, animal-themed activities and interactive exhibits. (Photo by Christy Hammond/Detroit Red Wings)

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson wanted to focus on two main groups for his community initiative: children and animals.

Partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit, Ericsson’s project 52 for the Zoo allows children to get an up close and personally experience the wildlife at the Detroit Zoo with the Animals After Dark Tour.

“Children, of course was the number one priority,” he said. “I know I as a kid always wanted to meet the animals up front, like really close. They were always in the distance when you go to the zoo. For these guys to actually spend the night there and experience that would be pretty cool. I would have liked to do that if I were a kid and actually even as an adult too.”

The event took place for the first time in September but due to travel complications, Ericsson and his family were unable to attend. However, he does have plans to continue this project and looks forward to a lasting relationship.

“We’re going to do this again and hopefully people are going to like it,' he said. "Kids are going to like it so we can keep doing it.”

For every hit Ericsson records during this season, he will donate $50 to the Detroit Zoological Society. This donation will fund a scholarship program to send underprivileged children to the Animals After Dark Tour. The tour is an experience that is available at the zoo during the summer and consists of guided tours, animal-themed activities and interactive exhibits.

“This is something that we work toward in our education department all the time,” said Carla Rigsby, associate curator of education. “It’s just being able to provide really unique education opportunities for kids.”

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit provides caring role models for children in need of guidance. For more than 100 years, BBBS has been helping children from across the country, operating in all 50 states and 12 countries around the world.

Through its website, people can register to serve as a ‘Big’ to help mentor a young child, a commitment that lasts a minimum of 12 months in which they serve at least four hours per month. Duties can also exceed these parameters as BBBS has had some matches that continue for more than five years and others that stay connected long after the child graduates high school.

To enroll a child, parents can also go to the website where they will go through an extensive interview process to find a Big that best fits their child’s interests. Parents play an important role providing background information on the child and ultimately making the final decision in the child’s mentor.

Contributions are not limited to mentoring program as they provide 40 Ways to Get Involved and have an impact on a child’s life in the metro Detroit area.

Combining his love of animals with a passion for helping the youth, Ericsson said it is important to give back to a community and people that have done so much for him in return.

“They’re giving us a lot to play in front of all these people every night,” he said. “It’s really special. Thanks to these guys, we have a job here and we can continue playing. It’s the least we can do.”

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