Putting Youth On The Cutting Edge Of Success
While he may be most remembered for his vision in leading the Philadelphia Flyers hockey franchise, his legacy lives on through thousands of young people whose lives have been touched by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
Founded in 2005, the organization uses the sport of hockey to empower young people to build strong character and life skills. Snider Hockey’s programs are provided free of charge to more than 3,000 children annually, with a focus on introducing children from underserved communities to hockey – "the greatest sport ever invented," as Snider said. In addition to Snider’s personal philanthropic investment, Comcast Spectacor and the Comcast Foundation have provided support to expand and grow the program to introduce a new generation to hockey and its ability to transform lives. Here is the story of one Snider Hockey alumna.
Virlen Reyes, now 24, remembers the distinct moment her life took a different path. She was in a middle school physical education class, and her gym teacher handed her a registration form for a new program – the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
"[The teacher] gave me this reassuring look – like he saw potential in me and knew this could unlock it," Virlen said. "If it was free, it was for me, so I figured why not give it a shot?"
Up to that moment, hockey wasn’t exactly top of mind for Virlen or other young people in her neighborhood of Kensington, one of the most distressed sections of Philadelphia. Poverty, drugs and violence are still part of the daily fabric plaguing the community.
"Negativity was all around us. We didn’t know the world that existed beyond the five-mile radius of our neighborhood," Virlen said.
Her home environment was also challenging. The eldest of three, Virlen often pitched in to help take care of her siblings while her single mother held down multiple factory jobs and struggled to make ends meet.
Virlen’s grades were declining, and she had little motivation to lift herself above the negativity of her surroundings. Then, at the age of 14, she showed up for her first Snider Hockey session, laced her skates, and stepped onto the ice. Something clicked.
"With every shift on the ice you become stronger," Virlen said. "Snider Hockey bombards you with different options and opportunities to become what you want to be."
With the guidance from her coaches, Virlen honed her hockey skills, and she gained the discipline and motivation needed to improve her schoolwork and personal outlook through educational enrichment and life skills programs offered by Snider Hockey. She played at rinks throughout Philadelphia and traveled to Canada, giving her the exposure to different environments, and the opportunity to meet and learn from other youth and coaches of different backgrounds. A pivotal moment came during a skills camp held at the Spectrum, an arena that served as the original home to the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I looked up at the rafters of the historic venue, filled with so many amazing moments for the city, and wondered, ‘How did I get here?’" Virlen said. "The sense of being grateful hit me like a storm. I looked up and saw my coach writing our next drill on the board, and I had an idea."
Motivated by her progress, Virlen sent a handwritten note to the person who made it all possible:
"Before Snider Hockey I had no hope in life. I was lost. Quite frankly I did not see a reason in living." She ended the letter with a simple, "Thank you, sir."
Ed Snider immediately arranged for them to meet at his Wells Fargo Center office, sparking a relationship that helped Virlen stay on track and continue to exceed her own expectations.
Ed would call Virlen every month or so to check in on the new things she was learning in school and on the ice. They would close out their conversations the same way, with Ed asking Virlen if she needed any help or advice. Virlen’s response was always the same: "Sir, are you kidding me? You already gave me a gift of a lifetime - LIFE!"
Virlen was often Ed’s guest at Flyers games, which gave her the opportunity to meet with other members of his family and learn from his staff. He would also stop by to see Virlen and her Snider Hockey teammates compete at the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of 1923 Arena, casting an encouraging, but watchful eye from the stands.
"During one play, I was skating behind the net to start a breakout when a player from the other team gave me a dirty check," Virlen said. "When I got up to retaliate I looked over at the stands to see Mr. Snider smile and mouth to me: ‘Don’t do it; keep it classy.’ I obliged and we won that game."
Ed even attended Virlen’s high school graduation. She went on to study at West Chester University, outside Philadelphia, where she graduated cum laude in 2014, and was the captain of the school’s national champion women’s ice hockey team.
She is the first Snider Hockey participant to graduate from college – but as Virlen quickly points out – she is not the last. Eighty-five percent of Snider Hockey high school seniors continued on to post-secondary education after the 2015 school year.
Today, Virlen continues to explore a new world of opportunities. She lives in southern California and works with the technology and creative teams at Spectra, a division of Comcast Spectacor that manages sports and entertainment venues, provides food service and hospitality, and offers ticketing and fan engagement services. Her journey is one that she cherishes, and one that she knows will continue to evolve. She is taking entrepreneurship classes at Stanford University and would like to eventually become a philanthropist.
The ‘why not’ mentality from middle school is something Virlen carries to her to this very day. She points to Ed Snider’s influence as shaping her risk-tasking abilities. "Mr. Snider saw everyone as equally entitled to having an opportunity. His focus was on how to get to the next level and never give up on the journey," said Virlen.