DENVER (CBS4)– Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows I am a huge hockey fan. I still play with a bunch of guys on Fridays before I come into work. And playing hockey as an adult in Denver puts one in touch with a lot of great people who love the sport and enjoy sweating it up every once in a while chasing a puck around the rink.
One of the finest people I’ve met through “old guy” hockey in town is Gary Howard.
Gary and his wife Leslie have enjoyed big success in the business world and these days like nothing more than giving back to our community.
That passion for helping, especially inner city children, was the impetus behind the Miracle On Ice summer camps at the University of Denver. The MOI camps celebrated their 10th anniversary over the summer.
Every summer, 32 kids who’ve never skated before are invited to participate in the camp at DU. It’s such a beautiful thing to see these kids learning to skate and play hockey while at the same time, enjoy mentoring, tutoring and support from a team of wonderful volunteers.
You can tell it’s going to be an adventurous week just by stepping into the locker room before the first skating session.
“First of all they don’t know how to put the equipment on. so that takes a long time. And then they step on the ice and their legs go in every direction,” said Howard.
A bit like herding cats. But these kids are very cool cats. For example, I asked one camper about how slippery that ice is for a newbie. She calmly replied, “Well, it’s slippery enough to skate on.” So there you go!
The Miracle On Ice camp includes five hectic days on the DU campus. One of the volunteers was lucky enough to be in the inaugural group of campers 10 years ago. Sergio Colmenaro is thrilled to join the group now as a volunteer reading instructor.
He can really appreciate what the kids get out of it.
“It’s an opportunity for them to work on different skills and meet different people. The volunteers try to kind of challenge them and force them to do things things they wouldn’t normally do. You can really see them grow in just one week’s time,” Colmenaro said.
Some of the volunteers first got to know Gary Howard through local hockey circles. And the word’s out on the value of the camp in helping kids grow. USA Hockey and the National Hockey League both made donations this year.
Gary and Leslie will tell you it’s the donation of time and talent by the volunteers that really makes things go.
Jen and Paul Maestas are full time teachers who help with the camp every summer. They spend several hours during the week teaching the kids math and reading and art.
“The kids really enjoy what they’re doing. We give them the hockey thing and the reading thing and the math thing. And we also work with the whole child and it’s a wonderful thing to see,” said Jen.
What’s also wonderful is the grand finale of the camp. The big game that culminates camp week on the same sheet of ice that sees the DU hockey team playing at the highest level of college hockey. Parents, relatives and friends are there to cheer on the kids. A proud moment for all, including the Howards.
“Leslie and I couldn’t have done this without the volunteers and support we have. It’s a true family. We have people helping out and it’s become multi-generational and they’re all about helping the kids. It’s absolutely awesome,” said Gary.