Graham Parsons and the Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp were honoured at a gala in New York City for its partnership with the Ice Hockey in Harlem (IHIH) program.
Parsons and Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp employee, Karen Van Meer, spent five days in Manhattan meeting their Ice Hockey in Harlem family and were special guests at the yearly fundraising gala.
Ice Hockey in Harlem is a non-profit foundation geared toward giving Harlem kids a chance to play an expensive sport, one they would never be able to afford to play, for free.
The 250 kids in the program, both boys and girls starting as young as five-years-old, play on an outdoor rink in the north end of Central Park bordering onto Harlem called Lasker Rink.
All equipment is donated and the program is funded through fundraisers.
Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp became involved with IHIH in 1991 when one of the founders, Todd Levy, reached out to Parsons.
Four kids have been coming to Sylvan Lake for the camp ever since, but starting in 1996 it has been two boys and two girls.
The Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp sponsors these kids by providing room, board and tuition for a week.
With Parsons being involved with IHIH since 1991 and Van Meer being a main contact for the past 10 years, Levy and IHIH Director of Programs Brad Preston, decided to honour the camp with an award at the 2019 Winter Sports Celebration fundraiser gala.
At the gala, held on Feb. 7 in a Manhattan penthouse event centre, Parsons made a speech as he accepted the Community Partner Award.
The Winter Sports Celebration also featured a silent auction as well as members of the New York Islanders and the coach of the New York Rangers, who was also being honoured.
The next day there was a reception at the rink for Parsons and Van Meer where past Sylvan Lake campers and their families had the chance to reunite and meet the pair, there were even campers from as far back as the first batch of kids in 1991.
Parsons described being reunited with these campers, especially the older ones, as the emotional part of the trip.
“Now I know why we do this,” said Parsons. “Time and time again the kids and their parents thanked us for giving their kids a chance to see an entirely different part of the world and enjoy a Canadian hockey experience.”
“We now truly feel like we are a big part of the Ice Hockey in Harlem family and we are proud of that,” added Parsons.
Parsons also said it was gratifying after all these years to see the impact they have on the kids in the program.
Van Meer agreed what hit them the most while in New York was moments at the gala and the reception at the rink.
“The fact that all the people involved, from coaches, executives, staff, kids and their parents, as well as supporters and sponsors were all so passionate about the program,” Van Meer said.
It was both Parsons’ and Van Meer’s first time in New York City, so they also made stops at Times Square, the Empire State Building, Macy’s, learned to ride the subway and took an all access tour of the famous Madison Square Garden.
On their final day in the Big Apple, Parsons took in an Islanders game from the owners’ box while Van Meer took the opportunity to shop.
They met up later in the evening to see a Rangers game from their very own executive box.
“That part was all cool, seeing the sights and sounds and all that stuff, but the real part was meeting the kids,” said Parsons. “For all this in the end they gave us this and it was kind of cool.”
Parsons and Van Meer also made a point to stop in at the IHIH office in Harlem before heading back home to Sylvan Lake.
Parsons added it was “absolutely unbelievable” in Manhattan and a “real lifestyle change.”
This summer, Ice Hockey in Harlem kids will make the trip to Alberta for the Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp.
Preston will handpick kids in the program who are doing well in school, in their neighbourhood or on the ice to be rewarded with attending a summer camp, explained Parsons, adding the program uses hockey as a conduit.
The kids who come into Sylvan Lake range in age from 12 to 15 and they stay right at the NexSource Centre during the dorm weeks of the hockey camp program.
Follow Kaylyn Whibbs on Twitter