BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The National Hockey League announced Saturday that it has awarded Baltimore’s Noel Acton the 2021–22 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award.

The annual award is given “to an individual who—through the sport of hockey—has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society,” according to NHL staff. Willie O’Ree was the first black player to compete in the National Hockey League.

READ MORE: Star Spangled Celebration: Fourth Of July Fireworks Light Up Baltimore's Skyline Once Again

MassMutual, a partner of the NHL, presented the award to Action. It comes with a $25,000 prize, which Acton can donate to the charity of his choice.

Every year, people submit candidates for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award at The three finalists, and ultimately the winner, are determined by fan votes and weighted votes from Willie O’Ree, the NHL and MassMutual, hockey staff said. 

Acton is the founder of the Tender Bridge Foundation, a nonprofit that has supported more than 500 boys and girls in East Baltimore for 20 years, according to NHL staff. He has focused on getting kids off the street and into sports programs, hockey staff said.

The foundation provides equipment, transportation, and meals, anything to help the kids succeed, according to NHL staff. 

Acton’s foundation also runs the Baltimore Banners and Junior Banners hockey teams.

READ MORE: Bacteria Levels Prompt Recreational Water Advisory At Cox's Point Park

The teams create a safe space for at-risk youth and increase their ability to navigate life’s pitfalls and become a positive influence in their community, hockey staff said.

Last year, two of the team’s members—Abe Luden, 22, and Davon ‘Peanut’ Barnes, 20—were shot to death on East Monument Street.

The shortlist of award finalists included Ryan Francis of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, who helped launch the Hockey Nova Scotia Indigenous Girls Hockey Program.

Meredith Lang of Minneapolis, Minn., was also on the list. Lang is the co-founder of the Hockey Niñas and Minnesota Unbounded. 

Francis and Lang will each receive a $5,000 prize, which they can donate to the charity of their choice, according to NHL staff. 

MORE NEWS: Mother Of Abandoned Newborn Receives 18-Month Sentence


CBS Baltimore Staff