“You want to try some of these on?” Rowney asked Giannkarlo. “Let’s grab a few. How about some t-shirts…do you like Fortnite?”
A big smile came across Giannkarlo’s face.
Giannkarlo was one of 15 students from Santa Ana-based nonprofit organization The Wooden Floor who spent an afternoon at Target Irvine Spectrum earlier this week for a holiday shopping spree hosted by the Ducks. Several players, along with their wives or significant others, as well as Ducks staff members and Anaheim Ducks partner TCL, treated the low-income youth to an afternoon of giving that the students will remember long after the holidays are over.
“My wife and I are ecstatic to be here and help them out, especially at Christmas,” Rowney said. “Their faces light up when they’re picking out stuff. It’s so cool to see that.”
“Around the holiday time, it’s extra special. It’s a lot of fun to see them pick something out and then able to provide it for them. We know it means so much to them.”
In addition to jeans and t-shirts, Rowney helped Giannkarlo select some jackets, toys and games for himself and his family to put under the Christmas tree.
“I feel a little nervous, because I get to meet the Ducks, but it feels very good,” said Giannkarlo of the experience. “I’m meeting a professional hockey player in person. It’s once in a lifetime.”
Rowney was joined by Ducks players Ryan Kesler, Jacob Larsson, Andy Welinski, John Gibson, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Kiefer Sherwood and Josh Manson. Spending time getting to know each other while shopping for gifts was the most memorable part of the day for both players and students alike.
“I think for me, just hanging out with them is a lot of fun,” Rowney said. “Seeing what their personalities are like and helping them enjoy the moment, it’s been great.”
Founded in 1983, The Wooden Floor is an arts-based creative youth development program that transforms the lives of underserved young people and their families through the power of dance. For 14 years in a row, 100 percent of the students in their program have graduated from high school on time and immediately enrolled in higher education. The organization works to break the cycle of poverty through dance education, thereby developing confidence and life skills in their students as they step into the world.
The Wooden Floor currently serves 475 local students at their two locations and boasts more than 200 alumni currently continuing their education in colleges and universities across the country. In their 11th consecutive year partnering with the Ducks for this event, the holiday shopping experience caps off the nonprofit’s year-long 35th anniversary celebration.
“It’s always fun to give back, but to treat these kids to Christmas, it’s even more special. It’s been fun getting to know them, their passions and their interests. It makes you appreciate everything a little bit more.”
“We feel so supported by the Anaheim Ducks and the Anaheim Ducks Foundation,” said The Wooden Floor CEO Dawn S. Reese. “This is a full circle relationship we’ve built with the Ducks, the players and the Samuelis. We’re proud to be part of their family.”
In his first time attending this event with the Ducks, Sherwood helped 14-year old Rafael choose some Nintendo games, a calculator for school and other clothing items for his family members.
“It’s always fun to give back, but to treat these kids to Christmas, it’s even more special,” Sherwood said. “It’s been fun getting to know them, their passions and their interests. I’m glad we can help provide for them. We’re trying to spoil them today. It makes you appreciate everything a little bit more.”
The Wooden Floor students chosen for the shopping spree were those whose families have significantly limited resources and need extra support at home. And as a bonus, relationship building with local role models helps to ensure that the students know their value in the community.
“A lot of the kids come in and focus on needs, not wants,” Reese said. “We’ve always been an organization that meets people where they are at, and this is another opportunity to feel that spirit and guiding principal. There’s nothing but positivity and joy here. We feel very honored.”
Giannkarlo has only been with The Wooden Floor for one year, but has already found a place that feels like home.
“It inspires me, because I love dancing,” Giannkarlo said. “I dance all the time, and I’m inspired to learn new moves. Once you’re in there, you stay there. I’m staying until I graduate high school. It’s family.”
“It’s great because they’re professional athletes and are really cool. They didn’t have to do it, but they volunteered to do it. And they’re excited to do it, just for us. That makes it really special.”
At the conclusion of the event, there was one more surprise in store for the students as TCL gifted each child with a 40″ high-definition Smart TV. Already thrilled by the day’s generosity, the students could hardly believe the announcement.
“We realize that the more we see our customers, the more we see how important it is to give back to the community,” said TCL Product Evangelist, Bruce Walker. “It’s a really amazing event, and we’re so happy to partner with the Ducks.”
Thirteen-year old Nancy Gavilanes was overwhelmed with gratitude.
“That was really exciting,” Nancy said. “This experience has been really, really fun, and it’s helped me and my family out a lot. I’m very happy.”
Manson echoed the sentiments of all the Ducks players in acknowledging how grateful they were to be able to make an impact on students like Giannkarlo and Nancy at this time of year.
“Around the holiday time, it’s extra special,” Manson said. “It’s a lot of fun to see them pick something out and then able to provide it for them. We know it means so much to them.”
And for students like Nancy, the fact that the Ducks players chose to be there meant the most of all.
“It’s great because they’re professional athletes and are really cool,” Nancy said. “They didn’t have to do it, but they volunteered to do it. And they’re excited to do it, just for us. That makes it really special.”
For more information about The Wooden Floor, visit thewoodenfloor.org.