Three area hockey players score big with their plan to help the homeless
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
It all might have started with Will Smith.
“I was watching the movie, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness,’” explained eighth-grader Nick Jones, from St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. “The dad [in the movie] was cleaning his son at a homeless shelter place.”
Since Nick had accompanied his mother, Marie Jones, when she’d volunteer at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Mo., he knew the emergency assistance center there provided aid to the homeless.
And he knew they were constantly in need of individual-sized toiletries for their patrons — the very same travel-sized toiletries that he and his buddies found in their hotel rooms every time their hockey team hit the road.
“We were sitting there at the hotel [on one trip],” said Nick’s friend and fellow Star Miles Manson, an 8th-grader at Good Shepherd in Shawnee, “and we realized they give us all the soap, and we realized we could give it to the homeless.”
“Nick came up with the idea,” confirmed a third Kansas City Star, Tyler Doyle, also of Good Shepherd. “And we were like, ‘Sure, let’s just collect stuff at hotels and take it to the Cathedral.’”
“But we figured three kids doing it wouldn’t get that many soaps,” said Nick.
However, he mused, “If we could get the whole hockey team doing it . . .”
And that was all it took. Encouraging their teammates to pack their own soap, shampoo and conditioner for road trips, and then to bag up those supplied by the hotel to give to the homeless, the threesome named their new program: Hit the Showers for the Homeless.
With the help of fellow hockey players, they collected thousands of toiletry items for the homeless assistance program at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Miles and Nick have been friends since preschool. Tyler joined the threesome when he moved to the area in first grade. The glue that binds their friendship, besides their shared Catholic faith, is their passion for hockey.
All three play for the Kansas City Stars, sponsored by the Kansas City Amateur Hockey League Foundation. The Stars’ roster boasts a total of more than 340 players from four to 18 years of age who participate in over 25 house (non-traveling) and travel teams.
Miles, Tyler and Nick have traveled for hockey since they were in second grade and spend many nights each season in hotels throughout the Midwest.
The Stars’ home ice rink, however, is Pepsi Ice Midwest in Overland Park; it is now the home base for Hit the Showers for the Homeless.
The boys started off pitching the idea to their own hockey team members, who were happy to cooperate. Next they wrote an e-mail inviting other teams to get involved.
Pat Ferschweiler, director of coaching for the Kansas City Stars, circulated the e-mail to all the travel players, then posted it to the Kansas City Stars Web site.
Next, with their parents’ help, the boys had plastic sacks printed up, inscribed with the slogan: Hit the Showers for the Homeless. They set up collection bins displaying the same slogan outside the locker rooms at the rink.
“If everyone on a 15-player team collects a shampoo, conditioner and soap each day over a three-day tournament,” their promotional flyer read, “we’ll have 135 individual items to donate — and that’s just one team over one tournament.”
At the beginning of the season, the boys distributed collection sacks to team managers who, in turn, distributed them to players to keep in their hockey bags.
The program was particularly appealing and successful, said Miles’ mother, Sherlyn Manson, because it was something hockey players could do on their own.
“I’m proud of all the hockey players that take the time and effort to put the toiletries in their bags and remember to bring them to the rink,” she said. “That’s something that even the youngest travel kids can do on their own; their moms and dads don’t have to help them.”
Each week, the boys empty the bins and take the toiletries to the Jones’ house to be sorted. They then make a monthly trip down to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with the collected items.
Marie Jones got involved with the emergency assistance program at the Cathedral through friends in St. Joseph Parish. She knows firsthand how valuable the toiletries are to the homeless program.
“They go through it quickly,” she said. “I was there today. Everybody that came through asked for something.”
Paul Kim, emergency assistance coordinator for the cathedral, is grateful to the three boys for their thoughtful efforts.
“The boys’ simple acts of kindness went a long way toward helping the least of Christ’s brothers,” he said. “Most of the people we see here are often homeless men, and sometimes we don’t have in stock what they need.
“Nick, Miles, and Tyler made it easy for us to say yes to people who simply want to keep themselves clean. As a result, they’ll be in better health and more presentable for job interviews.”
When they take the supplies to the shelter, the boys stay to help out, often encountering the people who benefit most from their kindness.
“It is a good experience,” said Tyler. “I think they’re grateful for it because they need these supplies.”
“I thought it was kind of sad to see what things happen to some people,” Miles added. “But it makes me feel good that I can help the less fortunate.”
Jones said when the boys help hand out the toiletries in person, the experience not only allows them to see the results of their efforts, but also helps them see life through a wider lens.
“I think it’s great that they see there’s a lot more to this world than what they experience in their Johnson County everyday life,” she said.
All three boys will be making their confirmation this year and Hit the Showers has doubled as a confirmation project for them. It’s taught the young players not only the principles of Catholic social justice, but has facilitated the practice of those principles as well.
Moreover, since the Kansas City Stars are nondenominational, the boys have learned a lot about evangelization as well. They’ve used their new program to show their non-Catholic friends the important role charity plays in their faith.
“A lot of kids ask them, ‘What’s immaculate conception? Where’s the cathedral? What’s Catholic?’” Jones said. “It’s been a nice, non-threatening environment for them to share their faith.”
“I’m so proud of them that they’re listening to their callings to go out and serve the less fortunate,” she continued. “I truly believe we all get put into the places where we’re supposed to be to help each other.”
Next year, the boys will be headed to three different high schools: Tyler to Bishop Miege in Roeland Park; Nick to Rockhurst in Kansas City, Mo.; and Miles to St. James Academy in Lenexa.
But there’s little doubt the boys will stay close.
In fact, they all plan to continue not only playing for the Kansas City Stars next year, but their Hit the Showers for the Homeless program as well.
“I’m going to play and still keep it going,” said Tyler. “But I think the organization will keep it going even if we don’t play.”
That’s because the program has become so well-known that even visiting teams attending tournaments hosted by the KC Stars are participating. Figure skaters who have Pepsi Ice Midwest as their home rink have also joined in the action. Traveling parents as well put items in the bins, which remain at the rink even during the off-season.
These three boys have astounded even their parents with their generosity, entrepreneurial spirit and organizational skills.
“It has been a really good experience for them,” said Sherlyn Manson. “They’ve been able to see that they can rally their friends to do something good for someone else in need. And not just our boys, but all the hockey players, have been given a taste of being able to help others, on their own, without any help from Mom or Dad.”
“It makes us better people and brings us closer together as an organization,” agreed Nick. “It’s a good thing to help out others.”