The students who make up the teams of the New Trier High School Hockey Club are learning more than how to succeed in school and on the ice. They are also exploring the world outside of their North Shore communities. And in doing so, they are understanding the importance of empathy, service, and a wider, compassionate worldview.
“Part of the mission of the club is to not only develop their skills as hockey players,” says Mike Mulhern, Philanthropy Chair of the New Trier Hockey Club. “We also want to develop their awareness of the larger community around them.”
The process is hands on. Over the last season alone, the players raised more than $10,000 for the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation. They have also spent 500 volunteer hours making and serving 850 meals for homeless teens and 2,350 meals for residents of the Cornerstone Community Outreach shelter. Their work extends outside of the kitchen as well where they have changed the sheets and made over 400 beds at another shelter.
“Serving meals to hundreds of homeless men all at the same time, all in the same place, made me realize how many people need help just here in Chicago,” says Henry Raith, a New Trier senior who plays defense. “It made me feel good to help out, and I also like that we were able to interact with the men who came to eat lunch. Most of them are older and had some interesting life experiences to share.”
Helping the boys realize the impact of life experiences so different from their own is one of Coach Randy Schlesinger’s goals.
“We tell the guys that they are very fortunate and have a lot to be thankful for, and in terms of material goods, that’s easy for them to see,” he says. “But spending time and mixing with these folks make them see a little deeper. They see people, from the most challenged street living person, to someone who looks like they could be one of their neighbors but, for whatever reason, is in a shelter.”
“It gives them an appreciation that there is a lot more to life than school and hockey,” says Michel Hauser, mother of New Trier senior defenseman Daniel. “The benefits have been increased teambuilding but, more importantly, they see how lucky they are and that there is a bigger world out there besides their busy little environment. It really seems to sink in when their hands are making sandwiches to feed hungry people.”
Steve Millard, once homeless, himself, and now living on his own, works full time as the Kitchen Manager of Cornerstone. He says “We start serving breakfast at 8:30a.m. and the kids are open to whatever tasks I give them.” He adds, laughing, “I say to them, ‘You’re a hockey player, right? You’re used to grinning and bearing it?’ They agree and I say, ‘I’m glad to hear that. Now, dice these onions!’”
The players are, across the board, made more cognizant that many basic needs go largely unmet for people in these communities. Tristan Jones, a senior defenseman, says that the impact of the Hockey Club’s philanthropy program “has had a tremendous impact on me. Living in this area it’s hard to realize that people are in trouble or in need of immediate assistance.”
New Trier junior goalie Cole Hansen adds, “I realized that a morning wasted playing video games can be spent helping others, instead.”
Bear Necessities’ is one of the organizations that the Hockey Club has supported the longest. “We are extremely grateful to the New Trier Hockey Club’s ongoing support,” says Kathleen Casey, CEO and Founder. “Not only do the funds raised help support our programs, but the Club supports the very basics on which Bear Necessities was founded, which is kids helping kids.”
The Club’s philanthropy and community service program is designed to be a key component of building well-rounded student athletes. “They are seeing the impact they can have on other people’s lives by sharing their time and energies,” says Mulhern, “We hope that by embedding the service component these student athletes will continue philanthropic efforts throughout their lifetimes.”