It all started with a simple smile.
Josh Kosack remembers the moment fondly, standing in the runway waiting to take the ice at Dartmouth’s Thompson Arena.
“I saw this kid sitting there who had Down Syndrome and I just started talking to him and his mom,” remembers Kosack, a senior at Union who is among the finalists for the 2022 Hockey Humanitarian Award presented to college hockey’s top citizen. “I gave him a high five and I gave him a puck after warmups. I kind of thought that was it.”
Though Kosack talked with the young boy before every period as he waited to take the ice, little did he know the difference he made.
“A couple of weeks later, his mom emailed the president of our school to say how much of an impact I had on [her] son,” Kosack said.
The 6-foot forward realized that if such a little gesture left that big of an impression, imagine what putting some effort into doing good could have.
“I knew I wanted to do something but had no idea what I wanted to do, so I started brainstorming,” said Kosack. “I recognized all the tickets we had to games that went unused. We get two tickets per [player] to every game and we have guys from Finland, Sweden, Russia, all over Canada. All these tickets were going unused because their parents couldn’t come all the time.”
Kosack decided that the allotment of tickets to Union home games needed to go to good use.
Enter the C.O.C.O.A. House, an organization established by Union students back in 1996 that provides academic support and expanded opportunities for at-risk youth in New York’s Capital District. Kosack connected with the executive director of the organization, Will Rivas, and let’s just say it was the start of something very good.
“We started bringing the kids from the C.O.C.O.A. House to the games and loving it,” said Kosack. “I’d go over there when I could and play Legos with them or help them with their math homework.”
It was such a wonderful relationship for Kosack, but one that became strained when COVID struck in early 2020. C.O.C.O.A. House couldn’t host these young, at-risk boys and girls. There was no afterschool program. There were no Union hockey games for them to attend.
But for Kosack, the relationship was already engrained in his blood. Just because Union hockey was canceled for the 2020-21 season, Kosack knew he couldn’t just let this relationship fizzle.
So he returned to brainstorming.
“I talked to Will and said, ‘Let me raise some money,’ and we raised $5,000 to buy iPads and laptops to help [these kids] with their remote learning,” Kosack said, noting he had some leftover money that was used to purchase Christmas presents for the children.
It was such a success for Kosack and C.O.C.O.A. House, that even when Union hockey returned to the ice this season, Kosack had a desire to raise the bar.
“I talked to Will to see what he might need and he said they were trying to renovate the house next door,” Kosack said.
That house was Will Rivas’ childhood home and he purchased it from the town of Schenectady with the hopes of making it into a teen empowerment center to continue to provide support to the children who age out of C.O.C.O.A. House.
“We want to give [these teen] a different mind frame for what’s out there in life,” Kosack said. “Not all of these kids had the best guidance growing up.”
It was time for another fundraiser. This time, though, the goal was much more than $5,000. Kosack raised $45,000. $10,000 went towards buying even more Christmas presents. Another $10,000 is being put towards a lounge in the new house that will bear Kosack’s name: The Kozi’s Kids Lounge.
The town of Schenectady, N.Y., is quite a distance from Kosack’s home in Oakville, Ont. And it’s hard to know whether that will become Kosack’s residence once he graduates this year or possibly even another city should professional hockey come calling. But one thing is for sure, no matter where Kosack resides, he’ll forever be connected to Schenectady and the many youth whose lives he has – and will continue – to touch.
“Schenectady will always hold a special place in my heart,” said Kosack, who plans to continue to raise money for C.O.C.O.A. House and Kozi’s Kids through his social media channels. “Coming in here, I’d didn’t know what to expect. I just put myself out there for different opportunities. The impact [these youth] have had one my life as opposed to the impact I’ve had on theirs is incredible. Wherever I end up around North America, whether it back home in Canada or somewhere in the States, I’ll always an impact there.”
And to think, it all started with a smile.