“Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed in life,” Hockey Education Reaching Out Society (HEROS) Participant Nick McCurdy wrote to begin his Thurgood Marshall Scholarship winning essay. “Based on my experience, I believe the most important problem in today’s society is the unrealized potential of underprivileged youth.”
Nick is the first Canadian to receive the NHL/Thurgood Marshall Scholarship and a goaltender for the Forest Lawn, Calgary chapter of HEROS, a charity that teaches hockey and life-skills to young people from troubled economic and social backgrounds.
Nick joined HEROS’ program in Calgary in the fall of 2006. “The HEROS hockey program is dedicated to getting youth off the streets and helping them not only realize their potential, but actively pursue it,” he explained in his essay. Nick lived with his older brother Joey, a younger brother and his mom in Forest Lawn, Calgary on a family income of less than $12,000 a year. Nick was a bright student who succeeded academically, but his teachers were worried about him. He had trouble standing up for himself and looking people in the eye, and just seemed lost.
When Nick was recommended for HEROS, he had the full support of his family from day one. Although his mom worked full-time she was able to arrange her schedule to watch him on the ice every week. His brother Joey walked to the rink from junior-high school to cheer Nick on and was so eager to help that he soon became equipment manager. Joey would run across the parking lot to the equipment shed a dozen times a session to make sure the kids had everything they needed.
Nick and Joey were similar boys; both were a little socially awkward and lacked confidence. They both did well in school but while Nick came by this fairly easily, Joey had to work hard. Through his involvement with HEROS though, Joey spent one-on-one time with volunteer mentors who helped him identify his strengths and goals. He eventually joined his high school wrestling team, where he made friends and grew confidence. Today Joey is in his second year at Mount Royal University.
Nick was coming into his own as well. “I started to apply myself more, on and off the ice,” he wrote. “This was because, for the first time in my life, I felt like I could make my dreams a reality. The mentors have helped guide me toward my career aspirations, since the first day of the program and are continuing their support now.” Today Nick, 17, has a four-year scholarship to attend the University of Calgary where he plans to major in Kinesiology. “I grew up not knowing anyone who had graduated from a post-secondary institution,” he wrote. “Youth in rough neighborhoods usually lack mentors who can show them their potential.”
HEROS has plans to expand their work in the city, partnering with Flames for Life Foundation to provide free hockey programming to youth at risk in the Bowness neighborhood. “Our program encourages, educates and inspires,” says Norm Flynn, HEROS’ Founder and Executive Director. “With this partnership with the Flames Foundation, we are able to offer it to more young people in Calgary, building off of our success in Forest Lawn.”
As for Nick, he now volunteers for HEROS as a mentor and is passionate about working with kids. He shared his experience on the other side of the program in the essay that won him his scholarship. “Most of the mentees… express feelings of being limited in life because of financial issues,” Nick writes. “In fact, being given the chance to play organized hockey is a rare experience for them. I use myself as an example of overcoming financial barriers.” As you can imagine, the kids in the HEROS program continually inspire everyone involved.