As a new team out to make a name for themselves in the American Hockey League, the San Diego Gulls have a lot to show for it. The 2015-16 season was their first and as the team sets out into the rink, the San Diego Gulls Foundation is out making strides in the Southern California community.
Melissa Werman and Sam Kieckhefer make up the core of the community relations team at the San Diego Gulls Foundation. Speaking with the two of them about the mission of the San Diego Gulls Foundation revealed the importance of the team’s established foundation, the Anaheim Ducks Foundation.
“We are a direct extension of the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, we are one in the same” said Werman. Although the team operates under a different name, the core values of the Anaheim Ducks are reflected well in the initiatives the San Diego Gulls take on. These values are embodied by the three pillars in which the organization strives to focus their charitable outreach on. Children’s issues, sport of hockey awareness and health & wellness needs of the community make up the top three priorities."
The San Diego Gulls Foundation has found that one of the strongest relationships of their young organization is with Rady’s Children’s Hospital. “Within the last six months we’ve been able to nurture and grow our relationship quite quickly” said Werman.
Supporting the amazing work being done at Rady’s is one of the most cherished parts of the Gull’s program. The players have visited the outpatient areas and spent time getting to know the children and families.
For Kieckhefer , seeing the expressions of gratitude and excitement for the players makes his role at the San Diego Gulls ever more meaningful. “We’ve been in the community for about a year, the greatest gift we get back is smiling faces. When players visit schools or the children’s hospitals, it’s the joy and warm reception of what we’re bringing to them that makes it so impactful” said Kieckhefer.
Addressing children’s health and wellness needs hits on two of the three top priorities making the endeavor that much more integral to the foundation’s efforts. In addition to visiting the hospital, the foundation hosted the well-recognized Teddy Bear Toss during their game against the San Jose Barracudas. For the Teddy Bear Toss, fans were asked to bring a brand new teddy bear to toss onto the ice after the Gulls scored their first goal. All bears were donated to the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Teddy Bear Drive to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital.
Unlike other organizations that may attempt to spearhead their own programs, the San Diego Gulls truly want to make sure to support those already making a difference. “Instead of recreating, we focus on adding value through the enthusiasm of our team and our fan base to bring attention to the issues facing our community” explained Werman.
Broadening access to hockey is of special importance to the San Diego Gulls. In San Diego, there are many who have never played hockey, much less attended a hockey game. To bridge the gap, the team aims to build awareness by visiting schools to share the sport of hockey with children.
“Our goal is and always will be to connect the dots through the sport of hockey,” emphasized Werman.
Thus far, efforts to implement hockey programs in local schools have been received with open arms. The foundation is in talks with multiple schools and local non-profits to introduce, teach and engage the community with hockey.
“That was the coolest accomplishment, we had expectations and they were constantly achieved. Seeing the support of our fan base shows we are truly making an impact in the community” said Kieckhefer.
As far as goals for the foundation go, Kieckhefer & Werman plan on pushing awareness through the Greater San Diego area, up into Orange County, and even down into Tijuana. In order to execute on the vision, the San Diego Gulls plan on partnering up with some big names to ensure success.
“In the future, we are looking to extend our relationship with large non-profits so that we are making an impact on a national level” said Werman.