He’s the impetus behind Garden City’s roller hockey program, which boasts more than 200 participants each season, a cheerleader for the 5 year olds who can barely stand on skates and a role model for the teens who find refuge in a Friday night game.
Andrew Karen’s name is synonymous with the roller hockey program but this village employee has shown he has the mettle and the heart to get any job done.
Part philosopher and fun guy who always has a smile for children and parents alike, Karen exudes enthusiasm for his job, the village and especially the children, many of whom grow up skating in the program he started.
Karen began working in the village part-time in 2002 after graduating high school and prior to beginning his studies at Nassau Community College.
As a hockey enthusiast, he approached the Recreation Department with the idea of implementing a program for youths and adults. He started the program in 2004.
“He came to us and said he would like to develop a program,” said Sandra Young, recreation development program supervisor. “He’s wonderful with kids and parents and he always goes above and beyond expectations. He’s an asset to the recreation department.”
Karen became involved with coaching as a pre-teen and immediately developed an affinity for it.
“I love the look on a child’s face when they achieve something new whether it’s figuring out how to skate or lifting the puck for the first time,” said Karen. “I help make dreams come true. I don’t look at it as work.”
Hundreds of kids who’ve participated in the program and their parents have embraced his enthusiasm. Karen proudly recalls the day a father handed him an essay his child wrote in school about how thrilling it was to be a goalie or the day a parent handed him $300 to buy a trophy for his “Stanley Cup championship game.” Karen had been using a cone with a punch bowl for the award and was telling the parent how he had seen a replica but it was too expensive.
For parent Diane Wykowski, participation in the hockey program has been a positive experience.
“One of the best experiences we’ve had as a family has been participating in Andrew’s program,” shared Wykowski. “Andrew is the heart and soul of hockey as well as many other programs throughout the park system. Andrew has taught hundreds of our children not only to play hockey but how to give of themselves and work together.”
The program offers clinics starting as young as five through adults. Karen is proud of the program because anyone can play despite their skill level.
“It is what it is,” shared Karen. “Regardless of ability you’re part of the team and everyone is equally important.”
Karen has found a lot more than a part-time job in the Recreation Department - he found a career. While he was experimenting with different college majors, Karen discovered that what he was looking for he already possessed.
“I was having so much fun at work,” said Karen. “I finally said to myself ‘why can’t I do this?’ I love providing these services to residents and bringing joy into their days.”
Karen discovered that St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue offered a degree in community recreation and he earned his B.A.
In addition to the hockey program, Karen initiated a “Peewee Sports Sampler” for preschoolers.
For Karen the novelty of his job and now a career has not worn off, if you see him smiling at St. Paul’s or by the rinks he’s hoping everyone comes out to enjoy all the amenities the village has to offer.
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