Who do you admire most?
Ask a kid that question and you’ll get lots of answers, but research shows there are a few that consistently top the list:
While 92% of kids say their parents are their biggest role models, 73% say they “look up to or want to be like” professional or Olympic athletes. Teachers are on par at 72%.
So how can communities use that power for good?
In Nashville, the Preds hockey players host an annual community day as well as Preds Prospect days in June. In partnership with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, 36 rookie Nashville Predators went to 9 locations across Nashville to interact with kids and do some good in their new community this summer. In October, 24 players were out again. By their side were enthusiastic Team Blue volunteers.
“It’s always such a fun afternoon,” says volunteer Chelsea Heary, BlueCross sales assistant.
“Meeting the children and seeing players interact with these kids who obviously look up to them is so rewarding.”
The activities vary depending on community need, but past events have included:
- Building a playground at Saint Mary Villa Child Development Center
- Playing street hockey with campers at YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan
- Rejuvenating the garden at Maplewood High School through the Just Keep Livin’ Foundation, an organization founded by Camila and Matthew McConaughey to empower high school students to lead healthy, active lives
- Baking cookies with critically ill children at the Ronald McDonald House
- Building beds for homeless children through Sweet Sleep
- Bowling with Best Buddies, an organization that helps community members connect with people living with intellectual or developmental disabilities
- Visiting the Tennessee National Guard Headquarters to learn more about what they do, tour a Black Hawk helicopter and play street hockey with local Nashvillians
Players with a purpose
This year, the October event got a boost from another local professional sports team as Nashville SC soccer club players Justin Davis, Michael Reed and Taylor Washington joined in. Preds players Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Calle Jarnkrok led the event at Preston Taylor Ministries, an organization that helps build life-changing relationships for children living in public housing. The gymnasium was split in half for floor hockey and soccer, and athletes took turns trying each other’s sports. Everyone in attendance had a permanent smile, including defenseman Roman Josi.
“The Preds take a lot of pride in getting out into the community, and we as players, we love doing it,” Josi said.
“We’re always having fun doing stuff like that, and I think people appreciate it.”
That day the Preds had an impact on everyone, including the Nashville SC players.
“I think the big thing we take from it is how athletes from other sports interact with kids,” said midfielder Michael Reed. “That’s a big part for us: the involvement we have in the community and influence we can have on the youth. And the Preds were great with them. Take notes — they were great.”
Sports for all
At the June event, Preds and volunteers took a unique tack, teaching a group of kids who don’t always get to play sports how to shoot and score in creative ways.
“I got to help out at the School for the Blind where they were teaching kids how to play hockey,” says Heary. “They had sounds to help kids hear where the goal was and bells on the balls they were using as pucks. It’s so cool that they’re trying to introduce a blind league into Nashville and really bringing all these groups together.”
Forging these connections through activity is key to the BlueCross mission, says John Maki, VP of sales and account management for BlueCross.
“Most of the things we do in the community tie into promoting wellness,” says Maki. “Whether it’s kids playing hockey or inviting high school athletes to games where they’re recognized on the ice, we want to give back in ways that matter.”
Having volunteered at several of these events, Heary believes that’s working.
“Watching these kids come into the gym so excited, running around and full of energy just makes you happy,” says Heary. “
“A lot of these kids may not be able to afford to go to games to see these players — the people they see as role models — close up.”
“You can tell these personal connections mean a lot.”