Since inception in 2006, the Garden of Dreams Foundation has awarded over $2.5 million in college scholarships to deserving students in the tri-state area. Many of these teenagers have been members of the Garden of Dreams family for years; we know that they’re brilliant, talented young people, but obstacles such as homelessness, poverty, or illness has made their lives and affording college challenging.
One of these amazing teens is Natalie, who Garden of Dreams was introduced to through Foundation partner, Make-A-Wish Connecticut. When Natalie was five years old, she was diagnosed with Leukemia. Reflecting on this time, Natalie shared, “There are days you don’t want to go through treatment — it’s hard, it’s painful – but it’s so worth it to keep fighting. It’s hard to see it when you’re that young, but now that I’ve gotten through the treatment I can see it all fell into place the way that it did.” Then, just a few years later in 2009, Natalie was connected with Garden of Dreams and was given an opportunity to attend a skating party with the New York Rangers, which included Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was during this skating party that Natalie developed a love for the game of hockey and decided to hang up her figure skates to become a hockey player.
“Growing up in my house, the Rangers games were always on, and it was a family event. I was fascinated with the speed and skill level of the players, and I wanted to play desperately. By watching their games regularly, it lit a fire in me to begin to play. When you combine that with being able to meet the players, you just kind of fall in love with the sport and with the team.”
Shortly after meeting Henrik Lundqvist at the skating party, Natalie was featured in a Garden of Dreams PSA with her new Rangers friend. In 2010, Natalie dropped the puck at a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. In 2015, Natalie participated in the Rangers season-end tradition “Blue Shirts Off Our Back,” attended Rangers Youth Hockey Camp, and received the courage award at the Henrik Lundqvist Pro Camp. Most recently, Natalie participated in the Honorary Starting Lineup for Garden of Dreams Night at a Rangers game in 2017 and was named a 2018 (?) Young Ambassador for the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. With the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation, Natalie raised over $1,000 for Garden of Dreams through a public skate at her local ice arena.
“I cannot pick just one favorite Garden of Dreams moment. My favorites are dropping the puck at center ice and Blueshirts Off Our Back. For each one, I remember the excitement I felt standing “backstage”, waiting to go out on the ice. I remember walking out onto the ice and being in awe of how large The Garden really is and how small I felt. But most importantly, I remember the excitement I felt when I dropped the puck and received the jersey. It was one of those experiences where it feels as if you aren’t actually present. It was absolutely unreal.”
This spring, when Natalie became a Garden of Dreams Inspire Scholarship recipient, it only seemed fitting to have her long-time friend and mentor surprise her with the award! Watch Natalie’s reaction to Henrik Lundqvist sharing the news she will receive a renewable, $25,000 per year, Garden of Dreams Inspire Scholarship.