TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Bill Darling as the 32nd Lightning Community Hero this season during the first period of tonight's game versus the Buffalo Sabres. Darling, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate to First Tee of St. Petersburg.
Darling raised himself up in pre-integration Florida and is now improving the odds for disadvantaged African-American youths through the First Tee of St. Petersburg. For 12 years, Bill and the First Tee have shared guidance and life skills to hundreds of at-risk kids committed to a common goal: help youths stay in school, graduate and go on to lead productive, fulfilling lives. At the First Tee these youth learn life skills: honesty, sportsmanship, confidence, perseverance, and judgment. As Director of Community Outreach of the First Tee of St. Petersburg, Darling has brought hundreds of minority boys and girls into junior golf some of which have succeeded in school and gone on to trade schools, college, or military service.
When Bill and the First Tee of St. Petersburg got started more than a decade ago, they didn't have a permanent home but now, the First Tee has its own home - a new mentoring center at Twin Brooks. It's the realization of a long-held dream and a lot of hard work by Darling and other leaders and volunteers in the program. In having a permanent home they can reach more lives and collaborate with other oragnizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, the Police Athletic League at Tyrone Middle School, Academy Prep and Mount Moriah Baptist Church. Darling also helped establish a youth work program that lets high school students in the First Tee get a job to make extra money to help their families.
Bill Darling becomes the 354th Lightning Community Hero since Jeff and Penny Vinik introduced the Lightning Community Hero program in 2011-12 with a $10 million, five-season commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Through this evening's game, in total, the Lightning Foundation has granted $17.8 million to more than 400 different nonprofits in the Greater Tampa Bay area. During the summer of 2016, the Vinik's announced that the community hero program will give away another $10-million over the next five seasons.