Weavers, retailer reach out to underprivileged youth with shopping gesture

Author: Mike Weaver | | Categories: Charity work , Mike Weaver

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Rhianna Weaver, wife of Montreal Canadiens defenceman Mike Weaver, and Jack & Jones retail-chain executive Frank Rocchetti, in mid-December 2014 at the Jack & Jones store in Place Montreal Trust.  MONTREAL CANADIENS CHILDREN'S FOUNDATION

Mike and Rhianna Weaver understand their privileged position in life, the veteran Canadiens defenceman and his wife wanting for nothing. Affable and approachable, Weaver has many fans who respect his self-sacrifice on the ice and enjoy his delightfully warped sense of humour.

With a legion of supporters whose size won’t soon rival that of, say, fellow rearguard P.K. Subban, he can slip through his daily life without scores of admirers trailing after him. And with such a profile, the 36-year-old could probably go his own way without extending a hand.

But Weaver and his wife, Rhianna, appreciate what life has given them and they understand that this offers them the ability to touch others.

So it was last month that the couple played host to a special three-hour evening at a Montreal clothing store for 10 young men, age 14 to 17, outfitting them from head to toe during an event that caught the lucky group completely by surprise.

These weren’t just any young men. This was a group of 10, underprivileged and in youth protection, to whom a new T-shirt or a pair of jeans can be an enormous event in their lives.

The Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation, in touch with counsellors and social workers at various agencies in the city, helped to organize an evening with the Weavers that none will soon forget.

Mike Weaver,  ice hockey  school, Defense First Hockey,  ice skating, Charity work

Canadiens forward Dale Weise with one of the young men who was part of a special December 2014 event at the Jack & Jones store in Place Montreal Trust. In an initiative organized by Canadiens defenceman Mike Weaver and his wife, Rhianna, the group of 10 between the ages of 14-17, underprivileged and in youth protection, got to meet a number of Canadiens players while being provided with a $2,500 wardrobe they chose themselves. MONTREAL CANADIENS CHILDREN'S FOUNDATION

The group of young men thought they were gathering at the Place Montreal Trust location of Jack & Jones to meet a Canadiens player, presumably Weaver.

As fate would have it, Weaver was unable to attend, nursing a concussion he had suffered a few nights earlier. But what they did walk into at this popular retailer was the unendingly energetic Rhianna Weaver and a handful of Canadiens players who would hang with them, dine with them, help outfit them and generally put a wide splash of sunshine into their lives that too often are dark with clouds.

“I’m the idea guy. I come up with a lot of ideas,” Weaver joked about the special night. “Rhianna and I have been part of charities before, and it just made so much sense to do this.”

Enter Frank Rocchetti, the marketing and visual merchandising head for Bestseller, the global parent of Jack & Jones.

“Frank and I were friends from years back when we worked together in Toronto,” Rhianna Weaver said. “When he came to Montreal, we started talking about something that would be nice to do.

“This came from our hearts. Mike and I asked ourselves, ‘What about youth shopping with the players?’ We spoke to Frank and he loved it, his team loved it and Jack & Jones loved it.”

In came the resourceful Geneviève Paquette, head of the Canadiens Children’s Foundation. Various social agencies were contacted by the team to identify a number who are in the youth protection system, some of them since age 4.

“I asked a social worker, ‘What happens to these kids after they turn 18 and leave the system?’ ” Rhianna Weaver said. “I was told that many of them live on the street. It was heartbreaking to hear some of these stories.”

So she and her husband and Jack & Jones decided to lighten the days of a group who truly appreciate even the smallest lift.

Weaver understood that, no matter his desire, he’d be better not to wade into a noisy, bright event like what they’d cooked up so soon after having been concussed.

So he wasn’t among the Canadiens this youth group found awaiting them at the Place Montreal Trust store last month. Instead, they found David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, Dustin Tokarski, Dale Weise and Hamilton Bulldogs call-up Eric Tangradi.

Not only would they rub shoulders with some of their Canadiens heroes in the store, grazing on smoked meat, burgers, grilled cheese and soft drinks served up in a booth set up in the store, they would be outfitted to the tune of $2,500 each.

Caught up in the spirit of the event, Jack & Jones provided another 25 pieces of outerwear for the Canadiens foundation to provide to youth shelters.

“We were all excited and passionate about this event before it happened,” Rhianna Weaver said. “But during and afterward, well, I’m ready to do this again tomorrow. At the end, I was getting hugs from the boys, who thanked me for one of the best days in their lives.

“Some of them were saying to me, ‘What am I going to wear tomorrow? I’ve never asked anyone that before.’ ”

Mike Weaver,  ice hockey  school, Defense First Hockey,  ice skating, Charity workCanadiens defenceman Mike Weaver enjoyed the special evening for underprivileged youth conceived by his wife and himself, even if he couldn’t attend. DAVE REGINEK / NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES

Sitting at home, Weaver received a stream of text messages and video from his wife, and the next day heard overwhelming praise from teammates who were bowled over by the event.

Gallagher dug into his pocket and gave two brothers a pair of tickets for a Canadiens game; all of the players threw themselves into the evening, digging through clothes and suggesting what would work in combination.

One of the group came away with probably the first suit he had ever owned, which he would wear to a job interview.

Jack & Jones outfitted the Canadiens who took part to illustrate that their fashion has an edge — not that the group mingling with them needed that.

The players didn’t just mesh seamlessly with the boys, who quickly came out of their shells, they became their dressers, working with staff who had been hand-picked from five of the chain’s Montreal-area stores.

“This was about the players interacting with the kids, we were just the vessel to be able to give them the experience,” Rocchetti said.

“The idea was to give them the space to have fun and to be cool. The players dressed them and shopped with them. The kids understand the brand but this was about them spending time with the players.”

Yanik Genest, Jack & Jones’s human resources manager for Canada and the U.S., was among those dumbfounded by the way the youth took to the players, and vice-versa.

“You should have seen the smiles on the kids,” he said. “For two hours, they were the centre of the world. Everyone was paying attention to them. It was priceless.

“One of the kids at the end told me, ‘I spent time with David (Desharnais), it was so cool. He actuallyspent time with me.’ These kids are not used to having people showing interest in them. So what the players meant to them, it was a jackpot.”

Rhianna Weaver’s gears of imagination already are turning for something else, as she speaks with fellow players’ wives about the possibility of doing something similar for girls.

“In that moment, these kids were so happy that I didn’t see them as underprivileged,” she said of an evening that was as unforgettable to her as it was to her guests.

“There was just a whole lot of happiness. There was no need to cry.”

Original Article by Montreal Gazette