Hastings man to meet Michelle ObamaIt was just more than two years ago that Shane Hudella launched his Hastings-based non-profit. Now he’s going meet the First Lady. On Friday, Hudella will meet Michelle Obama when she visits the Twin Cities.
By: Chad Richardson, Hastings Star-Gazette
It was just more than two years ago that Shane Hudella launched his Hastings-based non-profit.
Now he’s going meet the First Lady. On Friday, Hudella will meet Michelle Obama when she visits the Twin Cities.
Hudella’s firm, Defending the Blue Line, is up for a major White House Award that is part of Obama’s Joining Forces campaign. That put Hudella and DTBL on Obama’s radar, and he’ll soon be sitting across the table from her as part of a roundtable discussion.
For Hudella, this latest development is yet another positive development when it comes to DTBL, which provides free hockey equipment to children who have parents serving their country. DTBL has shipped gear all the way to Europe and to a total of 30 states here, including Hawaii and Alaska.
Over the past two years, more than $500,000 worth of equipment, tickets and hockey camp tuitions have been paid for by DTBL. Generous donations have poured in. Key NHL players have stepped up and taken on the cause. All the while, Hudella has operated the non-profit out of a space tucked below Special Tee’s in Hastings. Now there’s the meeting with the president’s wife. Asked if he can believe how the firm has taken off over the past two years, Hudella was quick to answer.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I never thought we’d be shipping gear to Europe and all over the world in two short years.”
While a number of volunteers have certainly helped over the years, DTBL has been Hudella’s operation. He’s been their lone employee, and has worn a number of hats over the years. Not long ago, he was flown to Anaheim to meet with the Ducks’ owner, Henry Samueli, a man worth more than $2 billion.
He had a private lunch with Samueli, who then donated $10,000 to the organization.
Hudella returned to Hastings, checked his email and learned he had someone here who wanted to tour the site. He scurried around the office, cleaning up as much as possible for the guest.
He said he stopped and looked around and couldn’t help but pick up on the irony of the situation. One day he was in Anaheim meeting with a billionaire owner and the next he was cleaning the bathroom of his office in Hastings.
Motivation hasn’t been hard to come by, though. Seemingly every day he hears touching stories from the people he helps, and those help keep him going. Recently, a California soldier lost his life to an improvised explosive device while he was serving. He left behind a wife and a 7-year-old son.
DTBL’s California rep drove to an ice rink with a bag full of equipment that he delivered to the family. The mother was in tears as $1,000 worth of gear was given to her son.
“That’s what keeps you going,” Hudella said.
Hudella, oddly enough, didn’t even play hockey growing up. He was a wrestler, instead, graduating from HHS in 1989. His best friends played hockey, though, and he finally got a pair of skates when he was 17. He’s now in three men’s leagues and is at the rink many nights every week, as are his children.
That love of hockey, coupled with his service with the National Guard, got him thinking. He made some contacts with the Minnesota Wild, and learned that Wild players Brent Burns and Derek Boogaard had an interest in helping military families. Soon after, the idea for DTBL was born, and initially the firm began by sending military families to watch Wild games. Soon, the NHL Player’s Association donated 100 sets of equipment, and the idea was put into action.
Hudella started the firm for several reasons.
First of all, having served for 24 years has given him a clear picture of what life is like for those who serve, and for their families.
“I know first-hand what the families are going through,” he said.
Second, he is passionate about hockey.
Third, he can continue to serve, even after he retires.
And, that retirement from the service is coming soon. This summer he will retire, a significant decision that he never thought would be possible. He’s going to be able to draw a full-time salary from the organization, and he’ll be able to make that his job. He had been trying to do both the work at the National Guard here and the work at DTBL. Soon he’ll have just one full-time job, and he’s eager to be able to spend more time growing the firm. His goal is to expand the firm to provide gear for several other sports, too.
“The goal for us is to be the one-stop shop to keep military kids active in sports.”
If the past six months are any indication, growing the firm won’t be a problem. While the first 18 months of the firm was marked by slow but steady growth, the last six have brought an explosion of growth.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s absolutely crazy. My phone fills up with voicemails a couple times a day. I’m getting 300-plus emails a day. It’s people all over the country, trying to help.”
Among the things that have really helped the firm grow this year has been a steady stream of nationwide media coverage, and a public service announcement that is airing for free on the NHL Network.
“That’s been a huge catalyst for us,” Hudella said of the ad.
There have been so many inquiries for assistance lately that DTBL has run out of gear to donate on at least a couple occasions. Some key contributions have restocked the shelves, and hundreds more youths have received big packages in the mail from Hastings. Inside are all the pieces of equipment anyone would need to begin a hockey career, from mouthpieces to helmets, skates, pads and the like.
“They can open that box and hit the ice,” Hudella said.
It costs DTBL about $50 just to mail all the gear. And, every time a package goes out, it includes about $500 worth of gear. For goaltenders, the box of gear is worth between $1,000 and $2,000. Equipment drives across the country have helped keep the gear coming, but Hudella is always looking for donations. DTBL has also been able to open several locations to help serve those in other states as quickly as possible. There are programs in New York, North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
A total of 3,000 children from across the country have received gear from the firm. Another 700 were sent to camps and hundreds of families have been given tickets to attend NHL games.
“We love what we do,” Hudella said. “I have the best job in the world. It has been amazing.”
Voting for award ends soon
Defending the Blue Line is competing for an award from the White House, the Joining Forces Community Challenge.
"We were selected as one of twenty national finalists for the work we are doing for military families," Hudella wrote. "The White House has left it up to America to vote for the winner. Winning this award would do a tremendous amount of good for our organization. We have been just absolutely overwhelmed this past year with our growth and demand for our services and the benefits we provide to deserving military families."
Voting ends Friday, March 16, at 10 a.m. To vote, go to: http://joiningforces.challenge.gov/submissions/4651-defending-the-blue-line