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A Story of Character: HEROS and Edge School Female Prep Hockey

For Carla MacLeod, character development and community engagement are part of the DNA of her teams. After winning a gold medal as a member of the 2006 Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team (she won another gold in 2010), Carla had many opportunities to become involved in community initiatives. She embraced volunteering and was inspired by the positive impact she could have by giving back.

When she began as Head Coach of Edge School’s Female Prep Hockey Team in 2014, it was important for Carla to share this opportunity with her student athletes. She had been involved with the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society (HEROS) in the past and a partnership with HEROS and her Edge team seemed like a great fit.

A volunteer-driven charity, HEROS uses the game of ice hockey to teach life-skills and empower marginalized youth. Working with HEROS Executive Director, Kevin Hodgson, Carla and her teams have developed a partnership that Kevin describes as “absolute gold.” He explains, “Carla and the girls have made a real investment, an investment of their time and an investment in role-modelling healthy friendships.”

This investment has helped dozens of youth in the HEROS program over the past five years and has inspired many current student athletes on the Edge Female Prep team. Bree Kennedy, a current student athlete on the team, has been involved with HEROS for four years. “Once a month we get on the ice with the kids from HEROS and make connections with them,” Kennedy says. “To see the passion and excitement that the kids have when we are on the ice together is what brings me happiness.”

Not only is the Edge Female Prep team working with the HEROS program on the ice, but they are impacting these children off of it as well. “Our team has a shared Christmas celebration in December every year,” Kennedy explains, “The girls on the team get together and bake treats for the kids. We have dinner, go on the ice and give each of the children a gift. We give them a Christmas they might not have otherwise.”

For Kennedy and her teammates, HEROS has made a big difference in their lives. For Edge alumni, there has been a noticeable lasting impact as well.

“I came to Edge in large part because I loved what Carla was offering,” explains Bethan Wilson, an Edge graduate of 2016. “She was all about the growth of the team and growth of girls as people.” Wilson, like many Edge Female Prep alumnae, has built on her HEROS connection after graduation.

Now in her fourth year at Carlton University, Wilson has been working with Kevin Hodgson to investigate an outdoor rink HEROS program in Ottawa. She says, “HEROS gave me an opportunity to experience the game I love in a different way. It strengthens your connection with the community and opens your eyes to see what hockey is in a broader sense – to have fun and learn important lessons for life.”

Daria O’Neill, an Edge graduate of 2015, has a similar perspective. After graduating from Edge, O’Neill attended the University of Vermont. As a member of the UVM Women’s Hockey team, she became involved with Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit organization that connects children with serious and chronic illnesses with college athletic teams. Through this experience she met Kayla, a child with special needs, whose mother had developed an organization called Kayla’s Directory to enrich the lives of Vermont’s special needs children.

“Volunteering was an important part of my experience in Vermont,” O’Neill explains. “When I was at Edge, we were on the ice every month with HEROS children. Having kids look up to you is so rewarding and it was something that I wanted to continue after I graduated.”

Now back in Calgary studying at Mount Royal University and playing for the MRU Cougars Women’s Hockey team, O’Neill has reconnected with the HEROS program. “When Kevin Hodgson came to MRU to introduce Super HEROS last year, I was excited to be involved.”

A new initiative for HEROS Hockey, the Super HEROS program provides a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment to youth with cognitive challenges, including Autism and Down Syndrome. O’Neill was involved with the program from the start. “The first day, if we got the kids dressed in their hockey equipment it would be a huge accomplishment,” O’Neill explains. “To see the children become part of a team, gaining confidence, and being more involved socially has such an impact with the Super HEROS families. The parents are often in tears.”

As with the Edge School HEROS program, consistency and familiarity are important factors for Super HEROS children. Daria is on the ice every Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. with her Super HEROS group. It’s a big commitment, but extremely rewarding. As O’Neill says, “at the end of the day, I think we feel even better than the kids.”

For Carla MacLeod, this feeling and the impact on HEROS children and their Edge School mentors is about relationships. “The human connection is the biggest take away,” she explains. “The girls take pride in being HEROS buddies. Each year at graduation ceremonies they often comment about how participating with HEROS was a highlight of their Edge experience.”

As Wilson and O’Neill show, the impact of the program goes far beyond Edge, as current student athletes and alumnae continue to value and build these human connections in their communities.

Bree Kennedy sees herself in a similar mold as other Edge Female Prep alum. “I love working with others. Carla has emphasized that a lot to our team – making sure that you give back. I would love to continue with HEROS as I get older,” she says.