Willey mentors Hurricane Katrina survivor

Kelsey Theriot’s sister Macy is also involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Brian Deutsch

Although she plays under the radar on the Minnesota women’s hockey team, Dagney Willey leads the team when it comes to making contributions off the ice.

The sophomore spends what little free time she has working with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

The defenseman volunteers with 12-year old Kelsey Theriot, a Hurricane Katrina survivor who came to Minnesota with her mother and two siblings.

Kelsey’s family is originally from St. Bernard Parish, La., but moved to Golden Valley after Katrina destroyed their home.

“We rode it out in our apartment until the levees broke and the water started coming in,” said Cindy Weinmann, Kelsey’s mom. “We ended up in Baton Rouge, and then about a week and a half later we made it up here.”

Katrina devastated St. Bernard Parish, which is in the New Orleans metropolitan area, with as much as 12 feet of flooding during the storm.

The hurricane damaged almost every building in the parish, including the apartment building the family lived in.

The family made its way to Minnesota, where it stayed with Kelsey’s great-aunt before finding a place of its own.

A short while later, a friend suggested the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to Kelsey’s mom.

Kelsey and her sister Macy, 13, both joined the program. Macy works with a fellow Katrina survivor while Kelsey was paired up with Willey.

Willey said she had thought about volunteering in a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters since she was in high school, but her first real volunteering experience came during her freshman year at the University when she joined Athletes Committed to Educating Students with teammate Andrea Nichols.

ACES is a Minneapolis-based mentoring program that promotes education and healthy life choices for inner-city youths.

That same year, Willey also earned the Gophers’ Ridder Award, which is given to the player who is the most active within the community.

From there, Willey looked into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She said she thought about it for about a week before deciding it was the program for her.

After applying and going through the interview process, Willey was matched up with Kelsey in June 2006.

During their first meeting, the duo played volleyball and Frisbee while getting to know each other.

“Kelsey is kind of quiet around people that she doesn’t know,” Weinmann said. “But she is really into sports and games.”

Since then, the pair has made many trips to Minnesota Twins games, the driving range and even a football game at Willey’s high school.

The twosome found a common interest in sports, where both said they consider themselves tomboys.

“It’s funny because she is a lot similar to me when I was a kid,” Willey said.

While Willey played boys’ hockey for 12 years, Kelsey prefers the basketball court over the ice.

Willey said one of her most rewarding moments was when she watched one of Kelsey’s basketball games.

“It was the first time she had done an organized sport, and her coaches said how much she has improved and how she works so hard,” Willey said. “I just remember the way she beamed up when I came to the game.”

Kelsey said she was excited when Willey came to her basketball game, and she said her trips to Ridder Arena for Gophers games are always a fun experience.

Earlier this year, Kelsey and her family watched as Willey and the Gophers picked up a win against Ohio State in a game where Willey notched an assist.

Although Kelsey said hanging out with Willey is always fun, the 12 year old is still unsure of whether she likes Minnesota’s cold climate.

But with Willey’s help, Kelsey has been able to weather the storm.