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C.H.A.R.G.E. Becomes a Win-Win for the Community, Lightning Staff

by Missy Zielinski / Tampa Bay Lightning

When chairman and governor of Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment (TBSE), Jeff Vinik, and his wife, Penny, called on their employees to get their hands dirty and give back to those who’ve welcomed the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Storm and Tampa Bay Times Forum into their community, staff members didn’t hesitate to acknowledge the Vinik’s call to action.

“Everyone responded immediately,” said Kasey Smith, senior director of community relations for the Lightning. “As soon as staff members found an activity they really liked, they began knocking at our door asking when they could go again.”

The initiative C.H.A.R.G.E. – Contributing Hours Across our Region through our Generous Employees – was the program the Vinik’s developed during the summer of 2011 and the goal’s been simple, to lead by example while inspiring others.

Full-time employees of TBSE are asked to complete a minimum of 25 hours of volunteer work each fiscal year (a total of 4,000 hours combined). C.H.A.R.G.E. does its part by sponsoring at least one volunteer event each month as a way to “get people going and thinking of giving their time,” but participants aren’t limited to just these C.H.A.R.G.E.-inspired suggestions, according to Smith.

The staff has the option of choosing a cause their passionate about. That flexibility in turn, allows the program to really run itself.

“A lot of the volunteering began by word of mouth,” said Kelly Cureton, the community relations coordinator for the Lightning and Storm. “People would go to these opportunities blindly and absolutely love it and tell everyone about it.”

Lightning broadcaster Dave Mishin grabs a hammer to join fellow employees roofing for Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County.

While C.H.A.R.G.E. began running certain opportunities on a steadier basis due to the positive response, Shannon Dixie, account membership executive for the Bolts, saw it as an opportunity to take a lead in creating a more-diverse program.

“You always have to think in many different angles, so I’ve been an advocate for a wide array of events and suggestions,” said Dixie. “To collaborate with other people’s favorite charities or causes and see their passion behind it is very powerful.”

Dixie, who called himself a volunteer “lifer,” has spent many of his hours donating time to the Special Olympics of Hillsborough County.

“It’s the little bit that makes the difference in your day,” he said.

Dixie also began to strengthen relationships with outside clients as they became more aware of C.H.A.R.G.E. and the different programs throughout Tampa, even coming face-to-face with some of those clients while sacrificing his time.

“Picking up the shovel, standing next to each other and shoveling in the hot sun definitely bonds you together.”

Allison Goodman, senior group event coordinator for the Lightning, drew the same connections when volunteering for her own self-inspired organization, the Girl Scouts of West Florida.

“Volunteering for C.H.A.R.G.E. is twofold,” she said. “When I’m doing programs with the Girl Scouts I get a better response from the community, or when I’m looking to do an offer with the school districts, they’re more likely to work with me, so it helps everybody.”

In her seventh year with the Lightning, Goodman, like Dixie, was excited to take a cause she was already involved with and combine it with the Lightning.

“It’s an organization that I’m truly passionate about,” said Goodman. “For the C.H.A.R.G.E. program to embrace going out into the community and making a difference was just amazing.”

Now Goodman has become a member of the board for the Girl Scouts as well as working for Meals on Wheels, Trinity Café and Metropolitan Ministries.

“That’s the beauty of this program,” Smith said. “Ideally, we’re thrilled when our employees become associated with charities they develop a connection and work directly with one another on goodwill. Those are relationships that last and are so special for our community.”

With endless possibilities of whose lives to touch next and TBSE employees going above and beyond when answering the Vinik’s pledge, the staff, as well as the community of Tampa Bay, have experienced an enlightenment since C.H.A.R.G.E. began just three summers ago.

“There’s been such a turnaround in how the community views us,” said Goodman. “Before, you’d go out and say you were with the Lightning and kind of cringe waiting for the hard questions about what was going on and now everyone wants to talk about all the good that’s happening.”

The second year of C.H.A.R.G.E. is now in the books and the program has continued to see its number grow exponentially, surpassing the 4,000 hour goal by 500 hours in 2012 and increasing that amount to 1,000 hours in 2013. Surpassing 5,000 hours of volunteer service might at first seem overwhelming, but with staff members enthusiasm exploring causes they’re interested in, it’s seen as an attainable goal.

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