How a Sheffield Steeler is helping children with mental health issues
When Marco Vallerand sets himself a goal, it's normally associated with blasting a puck into the net.
But the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey asset set himself a new target off the ice when he was playing for the club - and surprised himself with how well he did.
Vallerand, with help from club-mates like Anthony DeLuca and the backroom staff, was instrumental in raising almost £5,000 to help youngsters challenged by mental health issues in Sheffield.
The Canadian forward, currently playing in Italy until the EIHL resumes and Steelers return to the Arena, has earned the gratitude of staff at the Beighton-based Becton Centre for children with serious and complex mental health problems.
The unit, part of the Sheffield Children’s Hospital Trust, has described Vallerand's contribution as "incredible."
The sportsman likes to help his local community out, wherever he plays.
"I do that because childhood is so important," he said. "And I really think that mental health should be taken more seriously so I found the perfect match between children and mental health at the Becton Centre."
Sophie Coburn, a fundraiser for The Children’s Hospital Charity, is a Steelers' fan and met Vallerand at a Dronfield supporters' club meeting.
"I was looking for a foundation and Sophie came up to me and told me she worked for the charity organisation so it just started from there," said Vallerand.
"The funny thing is I said something (on Twitter) like: 'Who would like to have a tattoo of 'Vallytown' and help me raise out money for the Becton Centre?'
"It got so crazy so fast that within an hour I had 16 people that wanted to get tattoos and give money, so my friend at the Snake Room in Chesterfield organised to have a tattoo artist at his place so we could have all these people in for a session."
To increase the fund, the skater approached Tony Smith, Steelers' owner, and came up with the idea of creating special jerseys and a raffle and that turned out to be very popular.
"We created four unique jerseys, two that I was going to give away, one that I was planning on giving to the Becton Centre and the other one that I would keep for myself as a reminder of what can we do as a community and how helpful we can be together when we try to do something good," said the 31-year-old.
"So overall I think I raised around £5,000 which went to the Becton centre to help out on some projects that they have for the kids. I can’t thank the fans and the people enough.
"I had to raise my (charity amount) goal five or six times because every time we raised it we would hit it a day or two later.
"I never thought we would reach anything like £5,000 because my first goal was to reach I think it was £800 or just over £1,000."
Vallerand said he also asked a friend at the Kettle Black bar to organise a cocktail evening in which £2, for every drink served, would go to the fund.
"The only issue was the schedule ... I think I had one night free before the deadline where it was possible for me to be there so we organised a Tuesday night event where every Vallytown and DeLuca drink would be on special offer and £2 would go to the charity.
"Dukes joined me to bartend at Kettle Black and on a 48 hour notice we had quite the turnout and made around £140 in two or three hours bartending there.
"I wish we would’ve had more time for that event as it turned out to be really fun me bartending and giving drinks to people that want to help a good cause and chatting with them was a great time."
Vallerand, the former Coventry Blaze winger who joined Sheffield in 2019, added: "I should thank Sophie again, who helped me out and Alex who used to work at Steelers. And so many more. All the Steelers' office. I think I was there every second day with an idea. Or asking for something. Everyone jumped in and helped me."
Sophie said that: "Marco's incredible fundraising would be put towards transforming the dining room at the Becton Centre. The current room is a basic canteen type space, we aim to re-design it to create a more therapeutic eating area, with mixed seating areas and appropriate lighting which meet the differing needs of all young people who stay at our lodges.
"The amazing staff within the centre are continuing to fundraise for the project. We hope to get it started as soon as we can.
"It would be great for Vally to be able to revisit when back in England to see what has been achieved."
Sophie said Steelers team-mates raised around £1,000 between them.
"Deluca also showed great support for what a Vally was doing throughout, he had visited the main site hospital the previous year when he was in his first season with the Steelers so knew a little about the charity from then."