Opening Doors and Growing the Game

One Roof Foundation & ReWA celebrate second year of learn-to-skate program that brings on and off-ice lessons of hockey to a diverse group of children — by Alison Lukan

Trying something new can be intimidating, but conquering such a challenge brings a special sense of accomplishment. And sometimes, in that process, you are also introduced to a whole world you didn’t know you loved.

That journey is the goal of the year-long learn to skate program provided by the collaboration between the Refuge Women’s Alliance (ReWA) and One Roof Foundation which celebrated the graduation of its second class of participants on Friday at Kraken Community Iceplex (KCI).

Every Wednesday morning for the past 32 weeks, 60 pre-Kindergarten aged children from three ReWA Seattle-area schools came to KCI, put on skates, and went from learning how to stand on the ice, to skating, and, as each child’s interest dictated, attempting foundational hockey skills.

rewa students and instructors on ice

For many participants, it was the first time they’d been around an ice rink let alone stepped into a skate and tried to glide across the frozen surface. That exposure to new things and opportunity is exactly what ReWA is all about.

Dating back to 1985, the organization has focused on bringing services focused on inclusion, independence, personal leadership, and strong communities to immigrant and refugee women and their families. The learn to skate program runs through ReWA’s Early Learning Centers which provide bi-lingual and bi-cultural childcare for preschool aged children.

“This program provides something we introduce our children to,” Anita Zhen, family support specialist at the MLK/Rainier Valley school said. “We want to give (them) every opportunity to try.”

rewa students on ice

What the children know is that they are learning how to do cool things on the ice. What those who mentor and love them see is so much more. Zhen says that in addition to being able to move about the ice, she sees her students developing better balance and gross and fine motor skills.

And of course, there’s an ever-growing sense of confidence.

Many children have family members and caregivers come to watch them on Wednesday mornings. Ellen Lackermann had skated on ponds before, but she didn’t know a lot about. But when her granddaughter Oona joined the ReWA program, Lackermann was sure to show up.

rewa student on ice skating

“The number one thing (taught in the program) is ‘fall down, get up. Fall down, get up. You can do it,'” Lackermann said. “You don’t have to cry, you just fall down and you get up. They did that the very first day. (Oona’s) physical skills have improved, and (she’s also improved) emotionally. Sometimes (things aren’t) easy. You just have to keep doing it…even if other kids are better than you are, that’s fine. This program has been a great experience. I’m really amazed and grateful that the Kraken have provided this for all these kids.”

Lackermann said she had always considered hockey to be a game played by white Canadian men, but her voice deepens with emotion as she talks about seeing that stereotype shattering while children with parents from everywhere from Vietnam to Central America scoot about the ice with ease.

Kaori Nakachi is from Japan. She has two sons who have participated in the ReWA program – one in each of the two seasons.

usa womens hockey player kneeling down to help rewa student on ice

Her oldest went from being part of learn to skate last year to enrolling in learn to play hockey sessions at KCI. Something that more than a few past participants have done – something the One Roof Foundation can provide support for if a participant expresses need.

And if she was worried that her second son would be any less likely to fall in love with being on the ice she needn’t have worried.

“My country is not famous for ice hockey. This program is good opportunity for us. My son didn’t like ice skating before his first time. But now, here he practices hockey. And now he wants to be a hockey player. This program is very, very important for us.”

All of these accomplishments within this beautifully diverse community centered Friday’s celebration. In addition to a video recap of ReWA’s year, attendees enjoyed a lion dance performance, songs sung by the different schools in Spanish, English, and Chinese and, of course on-ice action. ReWA graduates who ventured into hockey performed a skills demonstration and all skaters participated in a choreographed skate to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams – which seems the perfect way to mark the moment.

“I’m very, very happy,” Nakachi said. “I come every week. I want to watch my son’s growth. At first, he was nervous, but now he says (with enthusiasm) ‘I’m a (hockey) player!'”