TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Erin NeSmith as the 35th Lightning Community Hero this season during the first period of tonight's game versus the Ottawa Senators. NeSmith, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the funds to the Grow Into You Foundation and Element Church.
Erin has always been passionate about service to others, which she has channeled into starting the nonprofit Grow Into You. This organization provides free life-coaching to teens in the foster care system, as they often receive little to no guidance as they transition into adulthood. NeSmith recognized the critical need for stability, consistency and mentorship in these kids' lives, and became a certified professional coach to address these gaps. The coaching Erin provides helps these teens shift their perspectives to have a more meaningful and positive outlook on life.
In the last year, at least 63 teens in foster care from ages 11 to 19 have been mentored by Erin. She visits four group homes weekly in the Tampa Bay area to meet these teens right where they are. NeSmith now serves an active caseload of 34 teens and attempts to meet with all of them for their coaching sessions weekly or biweekly, spending over 120 volunteer hours a month face-to-face with the kids. With the awarded funds, the Grow Into You Foundation will have the opportunity to significantly expand by gaining more staff members and more certified coaches to mentor the teens.
Erin NeSmith becomes the 306th 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 $15.4 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.