A foundation that began at home—and far away
Two indelible experiences sparked the beginning of the Cullen Children's Foundation.
Matt's wife, Bridget Cullen, explains it: "As Matt's NHL career progressed, we wanted a charitable event as part of our summers in Minnesota and North Dakota, and we knew we wanted to help our community for a really long time."
Then, in 2003, Matt's brother Mark had his routine physical for the Minnesota Wild. Physicians noticed an odd shaped mole on Mark's back, which they immediately removed. It was malignant melanoma—further tests showed the cancer had not spread. Mark has been cancer-free ever since.
"That fall, Matt and I were in Florida thinking about how fortunate Mark was that the cancer was not in his lymph system and we started talking about how we could get involved somehow. So that year, we began the paperwork to start the foundation," Bridget explains.
Then the NHL lockout for the 2004 - 05 season had Matt playing hockey in Cortina, Italy. There, he and Bridget met a boy named Jacopo who had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor.
"That's when we knew we wanted to help children with cancer," Bridget says. "Matt skated with Jacopo and we got to know his family very well. Jacopo slept with Matt's jersey on and he was such a joy to be around.
"Jacopo passed away in early 2008, but we were so blessed to know him and be a part of his life.
He lives on through the work of the Cullen Children's Foundation. And the kids we help are now all Cully's Kids."