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Sunday Feature: New Charity Model Raises Over $100,000 for Disabled Players

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Last Monday, the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation in Pittsburgh raised over $100,000 to support disabled hockey players, inner-city kids who are getting their first exposure to the game and wounded veterans who hit the ice. One day after signing a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, Chris Kunitz headlined a contingent of current and former NHL players at the St. Clair Country Club, as the local hockey community generously stepped forward as part of continuing efforts to make hockey accessible.

From the golf portion of the fundraiser, the group of players including Kunitz, John Gibson of Anaheim, Vincent Trocheck of Florida and former Penguins such as Craig Adams raised more than $70,000 from participants and sponsors. The following auction and dinner, which included numerous Penguins autographed jerseys, Arnold Palmer memorabilia, and vacations pushed to the total raised to over $100,000. 

It’s all part of the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation’s innovative push to combine resources and efforts of hockey non-profits in the Pittsburgh area for maximum effectiveness.

Michele Humphreys is the Executive Director of the foundation which now oversees 11 teams, including the Mighty Penguins Sled Hockey program, Hockey is for Everyone (formerly the awkwardly named Hockey in the Hood) which introduces hockey to inner-city children, and the Pittsburgh Warriors team for disabled and injured veterans.

“We can raise five times more money together than we could if it were just the Mighty Penguins,” Humphreys said.

Humphreys’ 12-year-old son James has spina bifida but neither allow that to prevent James from joining his three brothers in wearing a hockey sweater. That desire for James to have an equal opportunity led Humphreys to get involved with the Mighty Penguins and eventually to help create Hockey Sticks Together.

Sled hockey gold medalist and Pittsburgh native Dan McCoy also attended the fundraiser, Monday. Our Shelly Anderson profiled Dan last month. Humphreys stressed the importance of Dan as a role model for James, and the effect McCoy’s family had on her.

“You can accomplish huge things,” she said of McCoy’s example and Dan’s mother, Angie, “was my mentor.” The McCoys showed Humphrey the ropes of getting involved in sled hockey.

Now hundreds of new hockey players are being given a chance to flourish in what is otherwise an expensive venture.

A starter hockey sled costs $750. Each stick (players use a small stick in each hand to play the puck and to propel the sled) costs $100. So, the cost for a disabled child or adult to begin, starts at nearly $1000, before ice time and additional equipment are added to the total. It gets very expensive, very quickly.

For sled hockey beginners and inner-city children, the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation provides the equipment.

Humphreys ran the Mighty Penguins for three years as a volunteer and doubled the number of participants, “I was very lucky to have a husband who let me work 40 hours a week for no pay,” she said gratefully as volunteers, including her husband, whirled around this writer and her to finish setting up the dinner portion of the Monday fundraiser.

Now, the mission for her and everyone else involved with the foundation is crystal clear.

“It’s the joy of making sure these kids get what they need. They get the opportunities. And to see how hockey can change the lives of the kids, it’s powerful,” Humphreys said.

The organization is also exploding the number of youth players in the Hockey Is For Everyone program. The program provides equipment and transportation to youth players in the inner-city, who are unlikely to have the opportunity to play ice hockey. Just a couple years ago, the program was down to only 30 players. Now, it boasts 150 new players and Humphreys believes they can get up to 250 by next year. They’re also expanding Hockey Is For Everyone to include dek hockey.

The Hockey Sticks Together Foundation does receive help from both the Penguins Foundation and the NHL’s Hockey Is For Everyone program. Though, the Pittsburgh model is now being presented to other cities and organizations as a way to improve access and opportunities for everyone.

To donate or volunteer, please visit Hockey Sticks Together Foundation.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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