Hockey's Howes show support for non-profit TeamChildren

Gordie and Mark Howe came to TeamChildren in Audubon on July 31 to show their support for the non-profit organization. Seen here are (L to R) Dottie Grover, Gordie Howe, Will Lehman, Eric Drummy, Samantha Schwartz, Robert Toporek, Afton Woodring, Mark Howe, Joe Granese, and Justin Speeding. Photo by J. Finneran

NHL greats Gordie and Mark Howe came to Audubon on Wednesday, July 31, in support for the non-profit organization TeamChildren, which distributes low cost refurbished computers to families, schools and organizations to help children cross the “Digital Divide”, and also promotes the benefits and practices of Rolfing therapeutic massage for those of all ages – particularly babies and children.

After Mark hurt his back playing hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990, an injury which required surgery, his recovery was impeded by severe muscle stiffness. With the traditional means of tackling the problem not working, Mark was introduced to TeamChildren founder and certified Rolfing practitioner Robert Toporek by Flyer’s trainer Pat Croce, who suggested that Howe give Rolfing a try.

“Other treatments were not helping,” he said. “When I went in to see Robert for the first time I was bent over about 20 degrees at the waist and couldn’t stand straight. When I left I was stooping maybe 5 degrees and within two days, after (the treatment) took full effect, I was (walking upright) again.”

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Mark has been visiting Toporek once or twice a year to be ‘Rolfed’ since they first met in 1990, and introduced his father to the treatment last year.

“It really helps him with things like getting in and out of cars and getting his shoes on,” said Mark. “It makes things a lot simpler for him.”

According to Toporek, Rolfing balances the disparity between muscles “flexors and extenders” to correct posture.

“Emotional and physical things cause our bodies to contract over time,” he said as he manipulated Gordie’s back and shoulders. “Rolfing was developed by Ida Rolf, a biochemist who also studied yoga and the ‘mind-body’ relationship. Rolfing is the beginning of a new medicine for humanity.”

Toporek studied Rolfing under Ida Rolf in the ‘70s, and has performed the treatment on hundreds of patients. Years ago he decided to do something radical with his knowledge and skills, and began Rolfing babies in Philadelphia who were born addicted to crack-cocaine. While providing his service to those low-income families in the city, he became aware of another issue facing the families that inspired him to begin offering low-cost computers to people.

“I went to 9th and Indiana (in Philadelphia) and began Rolfing kids and I noticed that in the houses there were no books,” Toporek said. “I thought ‘no one is reading to these kids’ so I came up with the idea to get kids Rolfing sessions and computers.”

Following up on his inspiration, Toporek brokered a deal for free warehouse space and a donation of used computers provided by QVC. Since that time, TeamChildren has gone on to provide over 11,000 inexpensive refurbished computers pre-loaded with educational software to over 50,000 children.

“Eighty-five percent of our computers go to minority women raising children on their own. Twenty percent have gone to families with children with developmental disabilities,” Toporek said. “I believe that every family and every classroom should have a computer, and using refurbished computer allows us to save money and really make a difference.”

Not only does TeamChildren help families, but schools and other nonprofit organizations as well, including early childhood centers andpreschools.

TeamChildren currently offers refurbished desktops and laptops operating on Windows, Linux and Mac OS operating systems ranging from $60 - $175 in cost. Each comes with $500 of free software donated by two companies – BrillKids in Hong Kong and AWE, Inc. in Chester, PA.

“With this software underprivileged children do not need to wait to learn,” said Samantha Schwartz, a public relations intern with TeamChildren. “It provides a way of learning that is experiential - they can relate to it and it makes learning interesting for them.”

TeamChildren is a volunteer driven non-profit, currently staffed with nearly 20 summer volunteers who refurbish computers in its 8,000 square foot workspace on West Rittenhouse Road. Currently there are approximately 1000 computers in their inventory being tended to by people like 18-year-old Justin Spedding of King of Prussia, who has been with TeamChildren for six years.

“Volunteering here has taught me a lot of stuff about the inner-workings of computers,” he said. “When I first came here I knew how to use computers but not how to fix them. It’s very hands-on.”

Spedding, who is set to attend Widener University to study computer science/information systems, added that volunteering at TeamChildren is outstanding and Schwartz echoed his sentiment.

“TeamChildren is awesome because everyone is here because they want to be here. Not only are we helping children learn but we give volunteers the opportunity to learn about computers and technology on a level that (is comparable) to college or technical school,” she said.

“To me, education is just an absolute wonderful, wonderful tool, and one of the tools to be able to distribute education is computers,” said Mark Howe. “The work that Robert and all of the volunteers do here, it’s all for a good cause and all for the right reasons, and we are here to support that.”

TeamChildren is currently seeking volunteers of all ages to assist with computers, fundraising, PR and marketing, videography and digital production, administration, and finance/accounting. To find out more about Rolfing, bridging the Digital Divide, and how you can acquire or donate a used computer, call 610-666-1795 or visit www.teamchildren.org