St. Thomas Academy hockey player is a champ on and off the ice

| Julie Pfitzinger For The Catholic Spirit | May 10, 2011 | 0 Comments

St. Thomas Academy senior AJ Reid receives congratulations from Dan Brooks after Reid’s hockey team won the state Class A championship March 12 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Brooks presented the Herb Brooks Award to Reid after the game, which is named after Dan’s father, the legendary U.S. Olympic and University of Minnesota hockey coach. Dan Brooks played hockey at St. Thomas Academy and graduated from the school in 1986. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

AJ Reid has proven himself to be a star on the ice as part of this year’s St. Thomas Academy championship hockey team, on the ball field as a left-fielder and power hitter for the STA baseball team, and as the Mendota Heights school’s Cadet lieutenant colonel and member of its crack drill squad.

In the middle of these high-profile responsibilities — not to mention the academic pressures of senior year — this 18-year-old from Lake­ville also has been working out of the spotlight, with the help of friends and family, to launch Teens for Change, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging teens to become positive influences in their communities and do what they can to make a difference in the lives of other kids.

Through a connection with a family friend in the Minneapolis public school district, Reid learned about Elizabeth Hall International Elemen­tary School in north Minneapolis; almost 90 percent of the children in this pre-K-fifth-grade school live at or below the poverty line, and nearly a quarter have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

“My parents and I visited the school and met with the principal, who provided us with statistics about the kids,” said Reid. “I thought this would be a good place for Teens for Change to get in­volved.”

A successful team effort

Earlier this year, Reid and Jesse Wyatt, a senior at Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, and several members of the STA hockey team visited Elizabeth Hall and worked with fifth-grade students there to make 80 care packages for soldiers serving in Iraq. It provided the opportunity for Reid and the others to spend some quality time with the kids, who were a little awe-struck by the older students.

“It was really something to see them working side by side, talking and having a good time,” said Jackie Reid, AJ’s mother, who, along with his father, Alan, are co-founders of Teens for Change. “AJ has a very big heart and he just really loves people.”

Teens for Change is currently in the process of raising $20,000 for its first major project, called “Back Packs for a Promising Future”; the organization hopes to purchase 400 new back packs filled with age-appropriate school supplies to be given to every Elizabeth Hall student for the 2011-12 school year.

The organization, which received its 501(c) 3 status in January, has a board of directors, which includes Reid and Wyatt as well as several local business leaders, and Greg and Tom Vannelli, both STA hockey coaches.

Reid has taken on the role of primary fundraiser, approaching companies such as Ameriprise and Medtronic, and soliciting donations for Teens for Change.

“I was a little nervous when I first started having those meetings, but it’s easier now. I want them to know I’m sincere and it is important to help kids who don’t have a lot,” he said. “To be able to give these kids some opportunities and also to talk to them about the value of a good education is our mission.”

A broader vision

“AJ is truly a committed young man,” said Bennice Young, principal at Eliza­beth Hall. “The initiative he has taken for our school is very impressive.”

Next week, Reid and eight other STA seniors will be spending several days at Elizabeth Hall working with the students there on a service project. Young said all the students in the school, particularly the fifth-graders, really look up to Reid and his classmates.

“I’ve used AJ as an example of a role model for a leader and how he’s shown what you can do if you put your mind to it,” Young said. “Every­thing from winning the state championship in hockey in their division to the work he’s doing for our school. There are a lot of great things to say about him.”

Reid plans to remain active on the Teens for Change board, even though he will be playing junior hockey for the Omaha Lancers next year and then start college in fall 2012. In fact, Arianna Reid, his younger sister, who is a sophomore at Lakeville South High School, will be the one to create the next big project for the organization.

“Once I get established, I’d like to turn Teens for Change into a scholarship foundation to help send kids to STA or to college,” said Reid. “People have really been willing to help us out, and when times are hard, I think that’s what the world needs — people who want to make things better.”

For more information or to make a donation to Teens for Change, visit the website http://www.teens4change.org.

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