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If you've ever been to a Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game, then you know they can put on an entertaining hockey game, but it's what is done behind the scenes that makes those games so exciting.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Kelli Bytwork, Community Relations and Corporate Sales Assistant for the Grand Rapids Griffins, who stressed the importance of community involvement for the Griffins organization. During our meeting, Ms. Bytwork jumped at the opportunity to tell me everything about the organization's community efforts and her passion for hockey and community involvement was inspiring.
Ms. Bytwork's love for service perfectly matches the Griffins organization's values. With sixteen pre-existing community relations projects, the organization has many avenues to appeal to the Grand Rapids community. In order to motivate the team, Ms. Bytwork offers this advice, “It takes you [the players] to get people in here, but it takes people in here, for you to play hockey.”
Most of the players come to the Griffins without knowing anyone in the Grand Rapids area. Working with the community gives the players a great opportunity to talk with fans and to learn about the community first hand. The Griffins players jump at the opportunity to get involved with the organization's programs. Ms. Bytwork said, “I feel like our organization has done a wonderful job letting these guys know what it means and that it's not just about you [the player].”
“If you look at some of the guys that played for the Griffins that went on to play for the Red Wings, to this day, those guys are the best guys to go out and help within the community,” Bytwork said. The impact of the organization's community involvement is most apparent in Jimmy Howard, former Grand Rapids Griffin and current Detroit Red Wings goaltender. While part of the Griffins organization, Howard was so inspired by his interaction with the DeVos Children's Hospital, he created Howard's Heros which is a program where Howard purchases Griffins season tickets and donates them to the hospital. Howard still eagerly participates in this program annually.
It takes sponsors within the community to make these programs possible. Pumping Gas is a program that simply requires a gas station willing to allow Griffins players to pump gas for patrons in exchange for tips that would benefit a non-profit organization in the Grand Rapids community. Another successful program is the Youth Hockey Camp which involves helping kids ages 6-16 within the community with their hockey skills. These programs are just a sample of the sixteen programs the organization is looking to put on throughout the summer and the 2011-2012 season.