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One year later, Lightning Community Heroes program comes full circle for a number of local Bay Area charities

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

Having attended several sold-out Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games over the past two seasons, team owner Jeff Vinik is familiar with the large role a community can play in helping its local teams thrive.

Just so, he is also aware of just how much the local teams – in particular, his own – can assist the community.

That’s why in February of 2011, Vinik, through the help of the Lightning Foundation, launched the Lightning Community Heroes program, which awards $50,000 to a deserving individual’s preferred charity of choice at each of the team’s 41 home games. To date, the initiative has distributed a grand total of $2,350,000 to worthy causes throughout the Bay Area.

Although the Community Heroes program is perhaps the most well-known charitable effort associated with the Lightning organization, the reality is that it is just one of many included in Vinik’s crusade to invest $10 million into the Tampa Bay community over the next five years.

“We are always in a position to give back and to help others,” Vinik said. “We feel as if it is something we are obligated to do, and through the Community Heroes program, we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to touch people’s lives and truly make a difference.”

In only a short time, the program has succeeded in doing just that.

Just ask Sherry Tucker, a Lightning Community Hero from the 2011-12 season.

Nearly one year ago to the date, Tucker had a waiting list of approximately 22 families hoping to be admitted into her own grassroots charity, The Giving Hope Through Faith Foundation, which comforts families whose loved ones have been affected by severe illness. However, after receiving her $50,000 award from the Community Heroes program, Tucker’s foundation was able to assist each and every one of those families in need, almost immediately.

“We at the foundation are forever grateful to Mr. Vinik for his generous heart and willingness to invest in local charities, including our own,” Tucker said. “Receiving the contribution made a great difference in helping our foundation meet its goal of helping as many families battling cancer in the Tampa Bay area as possible.”

For some, such as Tucker, the contributions even have long-term effects.

Receiving the contribution made a great difference in helping our foundation meet its goal of helping as many families battling cancer in the Tampa Bay area as possible. - Sherry Tucker

“Since the time we received our donation in November of last year, we have been able to avoid having a waiting list, as we have supplemented those funds with additional amounts from various fundraisers,” Tucker added. “Because of the contribution we, were able to assist 73 families in 2011, our highest number of families since inception. We are projected to assist at least that many, or more families in the upcoming year. Without the funds, we would have not been able to reach these families in this short time period.”

Others have benefited equally, as well.

While there is a limit to the number of those honored each year at Lightning home games, the list of needs relative to each charity is seemingly endless.

Thaddeus Smith, who oversees the Tampa Dream Center, used the funding to renovate and prepare his facility for youth activities, such as tutoring, mentoring, and recreational sports. Although Smith describes the facility as “modest in all respects,” he said none of the building’s transformation would have been possible had it not been for the Lightning.

“Our biggest challenge was making it through the renovation process, which was required for us to receive our Certificate of Occupancy and open our doors in a community hit hard by recent economic conditions,” Smith said. “It was a tremendous feeling to finally accomplish that, and equally as rewarding for us to see kids lined up outside our doors before we open.”

Individuals lined up outside the doors before they open?

Now that’s a familiar site, and one specifically Vinik can relate to.

While the product on the ice the past two seasons has had a lot to do with an increase in attendance at Lightning home games, there are also those hockey neophytes who have bought in to the team’s new vision, which emphasizes a “fans first” approach and makes community initiatives a priority.

After all, how can one not be in favor of a local sports owner who donates over $2 million each year to local Bay Area charities through the Community Heroes program alone?

It is an attractive gesture, but it is also impactful.

“It is significant because the funds not only help local charities grow and thrive, but also because we are able to share our Heroes’ stories with our thousands of fans at each and every home game,” said Elizabeth Frazier, Lightning vice president of philanthropy and community initiatives. “In just the past year since the program’s inception, we have grown awareness about the needs of our community, and have inspired others to collaborate with our Heroes both past and present to make a difference together. It would be meaningful to see that continue as the program grows and moves forward.”

Thanks to Vinik and the Lightning Community Heroes program, the residents of Tampa Bay are already off to a good start.

Hero Eligibility

Get information and guidelines on how to submit a hero from your community.

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Nominate A Hero

Access the Lightning Foundation portal to nominate a community hero. Remaining nomination deadlines are Nov. 15, 2012 and Jan. 15, 2013.

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