JANESVILLE – Pushing overflowing carts of dolls, blocks, and stuffed animals as Mariah Carey’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” plays over the Toys R Us intercom might not be exactly where Janesville Jets players expected their junior hockey careers to take them.
Nils Rygaard, Drew Callin, Dan Kucerovy, Zac Goodrich, Roberts Smits, and Robby Marsanico, each in their Jets jersey, giddily hunted for toys under $30 as part of the Toys for Tots program Thursday morning. The program, founded in 1947 by the United States Marine Corps Reserve, distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas. The Salvation Army in Janesville has been participating for more than ten years, and helped organize the Jets’ involvement this year.
“We love the Jets,” said Julie Cunningham, the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Coordinator. “They bring a lot of fun to it. It’s nice for us to have that connection with them. They do a great job. We love having them.”
The Toys for Tots program is just one of the many community appearances made by the Jets’ players. This season alone, the Jets have volunteered to help out with Goshen Children’s Home, the Southern Wisconsin Humane Society, the House of Mercy Homeless Shelter, Janesville Regency House, Mercy Hospital, the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville, Washington Elementary School, and the Salvation Army.
The Jets have totaled 812 hours of community service since August 24th, averaging slightly less than ten hours a day. Swedish forward Nils Rygaard has tallied 39 hours followed by Alex Smith and Zach LaValle. Captain Drew Callin has logged 30 hours of service. Callin is in his second year with the Jets, and, just as the “C” on his sweater suggests, understands that leadership is exemplified both on and off the ice.
“It’s important that we teach the young guys that we respect and take care of everyone here in Janesville,” Callin said.
Callin says one of his favorite recurring appearances is at the Goshen Children’s Home, a group home for children separated from their families.
“We were able to go there and play soccer, help them with their homework, and build Legos. They already know us by our first names even though we’ve only been going there a couple of weeks,” Callin said. “It’s just awesome to see those kids have a smile on their face when we come to help them. It means a lot to us to be able to help them out.”
This year’s service is no anomaly for the Jets. Two seasons ago, Forward Janesville recognized the Jets for their efforts with the Community Improvement Award. The Jets have worked to establish a culture of giving back that transcends the years of roster changes.
“It is a privilege for our players to be playing hockey in this community, and we try to give back to the community as much as we can, especially around the holidays,” said Jets head coach Joe Dibble at the time of the recognition.
The Jets donate more than their time, too. So far this season, the Jets have donated $719 of tickets and merchandise to 34 different organizations.
“We’re a part of the city,” Callin said, pushing his Toys R Us cart past an aisle of board games. “It’s important to give back and let everybody know that we’re here to help them as much as they’re here to help us.”