For one morning and one morning only, injuries to Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond were a blessing in disguise.
If the defending Selke trophy winner and his speedy counterpart were healthy, they’d have been in Anaheim, California, Wednesday morning preparing to face the Ducks in pre-season action.
Instead the Canucks forwards took to the streets, alongside fellow injured player Steve Pinizzotto, participating in the 14th annual Raise-A-Reader Day, a Canada-wide initiative that generates funds for family literacy programs.
The idea was to have Kesler and company practice their paperboy skills by hawking special editions of the Vancouver Sun for donations to Raise-A-Reader. Instead, Kesler stood tall at the corner of Granville Street and West Georgia and was mobbed for autographs and pictures as if he were starring in the next Twilight movie.
For more than two hours Kesler signed everything from an American flag to a birthday card, posed for pictures snapped from iPhones, Blackberries and actual cameras, and helped spread the word about the importance of reading.
It wasn’t just lip service, Kesler practices what he preaches. It would be impossible not to with his daughter, 3-and-a-half-year-old Makayla, and son, nine-month-old Ryker, handing his books to read with regularity.
“It’s daily, nightly, basically whenever they bring me up a book, I’m reading it, and that’s more than once a day,” laughed Kesler. “We read a lot of Dora [the Explorer] and Curious George, and my son loves books about Biscuit.”
For those unfamiliar with the adventures of Biscuit, the little yellow rabblerousing puppy, he’s a riot – but he’s no Brown Bear. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?, a 1967 classic by Bill Martin and Eric Carle, was and always will be Kesler’s favourite.
“That was a great book. Growing up we always had bedtime stories and I always appreciated it, especially when it was Brown Bear.”
The importance of reading stretches past bedtime and the significance of Raise-A-Reader Day goes way beyond a two-hour spurt once a year.
The Raise-A-Reader campaign, created by the Vancouver Grizzlies and Vancouver Sun in 1997, has donated more than $7 million to family literacy programs, public school libraries and public libraries throughout British Columbia; last year $500,000 was raised in B.C. alone.
In terms of the Canucks, the Canucks for Kids Fund and Canucks Family Education Centre (CFEC) are major beneficiaries of this campaign.
Donating to such worthy causes had Vancouverites in a great mood Wednesday morning, giving Victor de Bonis, chief operating officer for the Canucks, an equally sunny demeanor.
“People have been great, I just had a transaction for $20, then another for $20, it’s just constant giving and everybody is really supportive of this,” said de Bonis.
“It’s thrilling that the Canucks for Kids Fund and the Canucks Family Education Centre benefit from this; over 500 people, kids and adults, are learning how to read at the CFEC and it’s a testament to the good work that people are doing today.”
While raising money to fund literacy programs in B.C. is the goal of Raise-A-Reader, increasing awareness is just as important to CFEC director Jean Rasmussen.
Wednesday morning she sold papers at the corner of Burrard Street and Hastings Street and while the foot traffic was light, she reached at least one curious passerby.
“I had this lady who stopped and said that no one was telling her about where the money actually goes and what’s happening,” said Rasmussen, “so I started talking to her about the work the Vancouver Canucks and Canucks for Kids Fund and Canucks Family Education Centre are doing collectively to make a difference in people’s lives.
“She told me it all sounded great and she gave me a 10-dollar bill after she had already contributed. I think it’s important for us to convey the really good work we’re doing and the difference we’re making in people’s lives.”
A special thanks to the nearly 300 volunteers helping out in downtown Vancouver Wednesday morning, including Vancouver Police Department chief constable Jim Chu, Pacific Newspaper Group advertising account executive Ron Ozols and Canucks Sports & Entertainment Club Seat Service account executive Samantha Docking.