HEROS’ impact stretches beyond Canada’s borders, far across the Atlantic to our International program in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Once a year, a few of our volunteers travel to Northern Ireland for a week-long hockey camp to help bridge longstanding cultural and community divides. For the last four summers Darren Matthes has been one of those volunteers graciously donating his personal time to create a lasting impact on youth in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Darren has been volunteering for the Calgary Bowness program since it began in 2014. Darren spends his time ensuring players are dressed and on the ice, adjusting helmets and skates, giving a pep-talk and encouragement, and solving any problems that pop up. His off-ice duties generally prevent him from getting on the ice with the players, but the program wouldn’t be where it is today without his attention to detail. He also donates his time helping raise awareness and funds for HEROS in the Calgary area and rarely misses an off-ice activity. In short, he’s one of the go-to guys.
In Belfast Darren has taken on a more direct role with the players, “Belfast affords me the chance to take on a different role than I do in Calgary, and I really enjoy being able to help different kids in different ways in the two places I give my time. It is a real privilege to be invited to attend and I do not take that for granted.” Every year Darren gives up seven days of his annual vacation time, from his work and his family, to go to Belfast to volunteer in an action packed one-week hockey camp. Volunteers regularly put in 16-hour days to make sure the camp runs efficiently. The running joke among volunteers is “the location of the camp isn’t a feature for us because we work such long hours and need to be bringing our best, sightseeing isn’t on the agenda.”
The cultural significance of the camp is not lost on Darren and the other volunteers, “we are very aware of the history in Northern Ireland and that things remain very cautious between communities. Before volunteering in the camps, like so many Canadians, I assumed the troubles were a thing of the past and weren’t a factor. It isn’t like it used to be, but these kids still see the impacts of those divides.”
Darren’s generosity does not go unnoticed – his impact on HEROS and the players is everlasting. He plays such an integral role to the success of the International Program that one of the funding conditions is that he attends every camp, “It is equally an honor and humbling to know that the local funders see me as a key part of the program. It helps me when talking to the kids back in Calgary, as an example of always putting your best foot forward because you never know when a once in a lifetime opportunity will come to you, or in my case it may come to you a few times!”
We are grateful to have such a tremendous person like Darren on our team and according to him, the feeling is mutual, “To know that I can do my part to help, through the game I grew up playing and still love playing today, is pretty cool. I proudly represent Canada, and HEROS, in Calgary and in Belfast.”