Johnny Lopes was raised on countless stories about his grandmother and two aunts – three individuals who passed away when the Middletown High senior was young. Each individual succumbed after losing their respective battles with cancer between 2005 and 2007 when they were in their early 60s.
“They’re in our family’s hearts every single day,” said Lopes.
A senior captain on the Rogers/Middletown/Tiverton boys’ hockey program that skated off with the Division II title last month, Lopes brainstormed ways to combine his love for the sport with a way to pay homage to his late grandmother (Nan Bulk) and two late aunts (Eileen Bulk & Ann Pine). The idea would serve as the foundation for his mandatory Capstone project that’s a graduation requirement for all Middletown seniors.
“I knew I wanted to honor their memory by organizing and running a great fundraiser,” said Lopes.
Upon writing a research paper that explained what he planned to target – a subject that in many ways hit close to home – Lopes turned to a familiar non-profit organization that’s been in the business of combating cancer since its inception in 2010. The Three Angels Fund was founded in memory of Eileen Bulk, Ann Pine, and Nan Bulk.
“There are some kids who do the [Capstone] project just to be done with high school so they can graduate,” said Lopes. “I knew I wanted to make a difference for people in this world who I might not know but I’m happy to help.”
Every year, Lopes and his family stage a big fundraiser at Kempenaar’s Clambake Club – located in Middletown – to benefit The Three Angels Fund. With his Capstone project serving as the impetus to keep the memories of his grandmother and two aunts burning brightly, Lopes sharpened his skates with firm purpose.
His vision came to life on Saturday, Feb. 25 as current members of the Rogers/Middletown/Tiverton hockey team squared off against former players (from Rogers and Middletown) for a scrimmage that doubled as a charitable cause. Call it the grand finale in a months-long undertaking where no stone was left unturned in the quest to spread the word about a hockey-related event where the proceeds raised would directly impact the Three Angels Fund.
“We came up with a flyer that we put on the Three Angels website and also in the three schools. We also used social media. My whole family lives on [Aquidneck Island] so that made it easier to spread the word,” said Lopes. “Being part of a co-op meant that we had the potential to bring in a lot of players for the alumni team. Having them participate was very helpful.
“A lot of people reached out to me a few hours after we put up the flyer. It was surprising in one sense but also satisfying to see so many people express their desire to play in the actual game,” he added.
Past players squared off against the current members at the ice rink located on the St. George’s School campus. Securing ice time was a key issue as Lopes worked with the rink’s manager to block aside some availability in the name of helping those who have been touched by a cancer diagnosis. Lopes had the rink for 90 minutes – 45 that set aside for the competitive aspect of this worthwhile endeavor.
“I wanted to stand out and do something that would make a difference in the community,” said Lopes. “I enjoy helping people in need. It makes me feel good as a person.”
After the participants vacated the ice sheet and the raffle winner was announced, Lopes stood before the attendees and thanked them for giving up their time.
“It was definitely a huge relief to be able to complete it,” said Lopes. “It meant the world to have so many people come and support me and support the Three Angels.”
Next month, Lopes will receive his date to present his Capstone project before a panel of teachers. He plans to explain how his passion for hockey helped him pave the way to put his own unique fundraising spin on the Three Angels Fund.
“I’m going to let it fly and speak from the heart,” he said.
For more information, visit threeangelsfund.com.
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.