DETROIT — Red Wings center Luke Glendening hosts one child with Down syndrome and his or her guardian at each of the Red Wings home games, treating them to the full experience through the Gametime with Glendening program.
His efforts, however, don’t just stop there. Glendening has been persistent in his work to support people with Down syndrome through Buddy Walks in Ann Arbor, special needs classroom visits in Grand Rapids and holiday shopping sprees in Detroit. Glendening said the cause stems from his early years when he played for the Griffins.
“I worked with them back in Grand Rapids,” he said. “I worked in a classroom and just had a blast. I probably got more out of it than they did but those were my best days, the days I got to spend with them in the classroom, for sure.”
His family isn’t immediately affected by DS, but Glendening said the connections he has made with several kids and their families makes it personal for him.
“There’s a kid named Jackson and he’d watch the games last year,” Glendening said. “The teacher called me and she’s like you’ve gotta make sure your helmet stops falling off because the kid is going crazy. She said every time it gets rough, he’s always trying to protect me through the TV, so stuff like that always sticks with you.”
On occasion, Glendening meets with his game day guests and gets a chance to interact with them after the Wings’ home games. That face-to-face interaction with the child is what Glendening appreciates the most.
“You’ve just got to be real,” he said. “You’ve got to be yourself. They’re no different than you and me, they just want to have someone smile at them and be appreciative of who they are. They’re great kids.”
This season, Glendening participated in the Buddy Walk of Ann Arbor in October to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The mile-long walk to raise awareness took place near Glendening’s alma mater, the University of Michigan. He also treated 10 kids with DS to a holiday shopping spree in December, where each kid received a $125 spending limit at a Meijer in Northville, Mich., courtesy of donations from local businesses.
The cause is one that the Wings center is very passionate about and works hard to support. Through the process, he has developed a personal connection with many of the people he has met through the Gametime with Glendening program. Those connections are important to Glendening and he is honored to provide his support.
“You just try to be friends with them,” he said. “If they ever needed anything I would hope that they would know I’m in their corner, for sure.”