CAMBRIDGE, MA — The Boston Bruins Foundation's relationship with Franciscan Hospital for Children spans a number of years. In the halls of the facility, Bruins flags and posters and other Black & Gold paraphernalia can be easily spotted.
But on Wednesday, another unique element of the B’s connection with Franciscan was in play, this one taking place on the ice. Funded by a Bruins donation, about 35 children from the hospital took part in an adaptive skating program at Simoni Rink in Lechmere.
"I came over here today to see this," said John Nash, President and Chief Executive of Franciscan before the event. “Most of the kids there are handicapped, and to visualize kids on skates who are handicapped, it has to be a huge motivation for the kids and confidence booster to be able to do this.
"I’m kind of excited about taking a look and seeing what’s going on with this program, too."
The program began several years ago, according to Diane Newark, Director of Development at Franciscan. With the help of student volunteers, all of whom are studying physical or occupational therapy, a group of children from the hospital get to participate in 10-week session out on the ice.
It wasn’t only an idea that excited and peaked the curiosity of Nash. Speaking to one of the parents of a participating child, this program has done wonders for many youngsters, even if the idea seemed farfetched at the start.
"My son has been doing this for two years," said Angela, mother of 6-year-old Max, as she watched him skate from behind the glass. "Prior to that—he still does have some balance issues—so up until about two years ago he could barely walk.
"When they suggested this program two years ago they thought it would help with his mobility and his balance, and we thought, we’re kind of pushing it here, the kid just came out of a walker, so to put him on the ice is a bit much.
"But last year, he did great, the first three sessions he was a bit wobbly on the ice. But by the end of the 10 sessions he was able tool around on the frame. This year, he’s not even using the frame, so he’s doing remarkably better," she said.
Max paraded on around the ice in a neon green helmet, simple to spot, even with event volunteers towering over him. And if his helmet wasn’t enough to give him away, a huge smile, much like many of the other children participating, made him easy to find.
"The adaptive skating program that we’ve been a part of, I’ve seen some of the same kids the last three or four years here, and I can really see the improvement that they’ve made, which is good to see," said Boston Bruins Foundation Executive Director Bob Sweeney, who laced up the skates to take the ice in Lechmere. "Obviously you see some new kids, but with some children you try different sports with them to try to bring out their personality, and you can definitely see when these boys and girls hit the ice they have smiles on their face, which is what it’s all about."
According to Nash, the Bruins longstanding relationship with Franciscan creates a dynamic that he never quite has been able to come up with an explanation for, but one that is essential.
"I think it’s fairly important for the kids to relate to athletes," Nash said. "The athletes come over, and for some reason, athletes and children seem to have this bond; they get along really well.
"So when the kids see the athletes coming through the door it really lightens them up. It’s a change during the day for the kids and something they look forward to.
"The visits and the support of the Bruins really help our program in quite a number of different ways," he said.
And it didn’t take long to see that change in the children that Nash was referred to, as Sweeney, a former Boston College and Boston Bruins forward, skated around from child to child, giving skating tips, hockey advice, or simply just to chat.
All the while, the kids couldn’t get enough of "Swoop."
"Most importantly, at this age, they're just out there having fun," Sweeney said with a smile. "There are so many different levels.
"Some kids are just getting out on the ice for the first time, some kids that have been out there multiple times.
"But you can see that some of the children they’re getting it, but no matter what level they’re at, everybody seems to have a smile on their face, which is great."
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