There is no real timeline when it comes to giving back. Just because you weren’t exposed to it as a child, doesn’t mean that it’s too late to get involved, no matter your age. Tom Kostopoulos of the Calgary Flames was shown what it meant to give back early on in his professional hockey career. As a rookie playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – a team that was also entering their first season in the AHL that same year – Kostopoulos got involved early on to help the team make a name for themselves within the community and he instantly fell in love.
“My first year of pro hockey, we [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton] were new so we did a lot of charity work like practices with kids, hospital visits and work with local charities” said Kostopoulos.
“I didn’t really see how much it helped when I was younger, but as I got older I saw how much it helped the kids so I did more and more.”
Having played many seasons in both the AHL and the NHL, the Mississauga, Ontario native has done it all off the ice in more than one city and he doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Although he has helped out in many different communities over the years, Kostopoulos says there is one city that he feels he made a really big difference in because of how the team and players are portrayed throughout the city.
“Every team tries to do as much as they can for different charities and things like that but I think in Montreal, because the hockey players are so highly respected and looked at almost like super heroes, doing things in Montreal with the kids was pretty amazing,” explained Kostopoulous.
“In other cities that I’ve played in, the kids are very happy to see you, but in Montreal when you walk in to their hospital room, they are just in complete awe and they really appreciate what you’re doing for them.”
This past season, Kostopoulos took giving back to a whole new level, as he became the spokesperson for the Calgary Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. As the spokesperson for the CCA, he helped raise awareness and became a voice for people who are adversely affected by gluten. Throughout the season, Kostopoulos donated $100 per goal that he scored during the regular season, as well as tickets to the program’s youth. After each game, the guests were invited into the Flames’ locker room where they got to meet Tom and other members of the Calgary Flames.
“My wife and I wanted to work with kids so we did a lot of events with the CCA,” he mentioned.
“I thought that talking to the kids, I was going to help them out a lot by helping them overcome some of their fears but I think realistically they taught me more and I learned so much from them and it was a lot of fun,” elucidated the former London Knight.
“It’s something that my wife and I are involved in personally so we really believe in it and we want to work with them as much as we can.”
While Kostopoulos has remained active within the community over the years, his wife has continued to show her support for both him and the community, as she also helps out with the work that he does off the ice.
“My wife wanted to do something this year to help out and the Impact Society has the HEROES program so she wanted to volunteer and train to work with them,” he mentioned.
“If we’re back in Calgary next year she’ll definitely get involved with that again,” he added.
The Impact Society is a leader in youth development that works to create positive outcomes for youth by building the characteristics that contribute to greater resilience in youth. They help teens make better life decisions and give them a better head start into adulthood. Through the HEROES program, Kostopoulos pledged to donate money for every hit that he made throughout the regular season.
“Hitting is a part of my game so I hit a lot to help out the team but knowing that through that I can help change a kid’s life in a small way, it’s nice and satisfying for sure,” chuckled Kostopoulos.
Another foundation that the Kostopoulos’ are heavily involved in is Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids Foundation; a non-profit organization whose purpose is to contribute financial resources to selected non-profit organizations that effectively serve and benefit children with an emphasis on health, education and inner-city services.
“My wife and I have been giving back to Teammates for Kids for the last six or seven years now,” mentioned Kostopoulos.
“It’s a known charity throughout the NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL and soccer as well,” he continued.
“They benefit children of any age and give money to non-profit organizations that serve children, plus the Foundation triples each athlete’s donation so it’s one that we really like to give to.”
At the end of the day, it’s not all about the total money raised or earned for Kostopoulos, it’s about how many smiles he can put on the kids faces that day and how many lives he can help change for the better.
“I just want to help out kids in any way,” he stated.
“I think that my family has been very fortunate to have the things that we have and be healthy and do the things that we love to do so we want to give back and help out kids in any way possible and any charity that my wife and I have worked with has been to help out kids,” he proceeded.
“We just want to make their lives easier and help show them down the right path.”
To learn more about the Canadian Celiac Association, visit http://www.celiac.ca/
To learn more about the Impact Society and the HEROES program, visit http://www.impactsociety.com/index.php
To learn more about Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids Foundation, visit http://www.teammatesforkids.com/