It was clear from the big smiles on their faces that St. George Catholic Elementary School’s students were having a fantastic time on the ice Thursday morning.
Thanks to the PenFinancial Credit Union’s annual Skates for Kids program, the Crystal Beach elementary school received about 40 brand new helmets, close to 100 gently used skates, as well as a free day of skating at the Crystal Ridge Arena.
“It’s wonderful,” says Rosanne Sandel, the principal of St. George Catholic.
“The skates and the helmets arrived on Monday and we are so grateful to have them.”
This is the second time St. George Catholic benefited from the program. The first time the school received a donation from Skates for Kids was about three years ago.
According to Sandel, Front Row Sports in Fonthill sharpened all the skates the school already had on hand, as well as the skates that were donated this week.
When Sandel became principal of the school, she started a skating program because it’s something she always enjoyed. Now, the students head to the Crystal Ridge Arena about three times each year.
“When we first started, most of the kids had never skated before. But the skating program makes sense because we have this beautiful arena here and it’s just a few steps from the school,” Sandel explains.
When kids know how to skate, it helps them build confidence, promotes exercise and gives them something to do with their families.
“I’ve seen a real difference in the children that have learned how to skate. The arena is also a community hub and a place where people can be social. That’s so important to have. It gives the kids something to do,” the principal says.
Grade 8 student Jacob Mamo says the opportunity to learn to skate has had a huge impact on his life.
“It’s not only a Canadian tradition. Skating is also a lot of fun,” he says.
“I started in a skating program like this one (at the school). My dad signed me up for it. Not only is (skating) amazing exercise, everyone I know meets here on Friday nights and skates. I’ve also played hockey for eight years because I’ve learned how to skate.”
When the big donation from Skates for Kids arrived earlier this week, Mamo helped younger students try on the equipment to find the right size for each person.
Mamo explains that when he was younger, not knowing how to skate was a bit embarrassing for himself and many of his school mates.
“I remember coming here with school and seeing the older kids sitting on the bench and they’d just be acting cool and talking to each other. But when you realize it’s more fun to skate, sitting there on the bench is just boring.”
But that attitude has changed drastically thanks to the skating program at St. George and the support from Skates for Kids.
“If you look today, you’ll see most of the Grade 7s and 8s out there helping the younger kids learn how to skate,” Mamo says.
PenFinancial Credit Union spokesperson Colin Peters says the Skates for Kids program collects gently used skates over the course of the year to donate them to local schools that would not otherwise be able to organize a skating program.
“Anywhere from one to three schools benefit from the program each year,” he says, and adds, “As part of PenFinancial’ s mandate, we are committed to supporting truly local organizations and schools in Niagara.”
To date, the Skates for Kids program has donated over 2,000 pairs of skates and over 800 brand-new CSA approved helmets to local elementary schools.
Donations of used skates in good condition can be dropped off at any PenFinancial branch.
“All of our employees know about the Skates for Kids program very well and will accept them,” Peters says.