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Lightning's heroes program hits $10M in donations

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- The Lightning Community Heroes Program, launched by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, reached $10 million Monday with the announcement of 197th community hero Sister Claire LeBouef for her work with New Life Village, New Life Dwelling Place and Everyday Blessings.

The program, which is backed by the Vinik Family Foundation and the Lightning Foundation, has celebrated a local hero and donated $50,000 to the nonprofit charity (or charities) of his or her choice. During the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning Foundation increased the donation amount to $100,000 for each hero. To date, 315 nonprofits have received money through the program.

Sister Claire LeBouef, the 197th local hero honored by the Lightning Community Heroes Program, hugs Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik. (Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI)

This milestone comes five years after the Viniks pledged $10 million to Tampa Bay area nonprofits over five seasons.

"Where we are at 197 [people] and the quality of Sister Leboeuf at [No.] 197 is every bit as strong as the quality of No. 1," Vinik said. "We keep asking for recommendations and applications for the hero program, and we keep getting in hundreds of incredible stories and amazing people."

Vinik said he continues to be touched by the people who are honored during each Lightning home game and the stories they share.

"These people are unheralded. None of us know what [an] impact they're having," Vinik said. "And these are hundreds of individuals who are so selfless, it's amazing. It's humbling to all of us when somebody that spends 20-30 hours of their week working in a field or delivering food ... whatever it is. I'm the luckiest guy out there. I've met almost 197 of them."

Vinik said the Lightning's C.H.A.R.G.E. (Contributing Hours Across Our Region Though Our Generous Employees) Program has continued having relationships with some of the nonprofit programs that have been selected for donations.

With the $10 million goal reached, Vinik said he expects the community hero program to continue to move forward and expects the Lightning to continue to be involved in nonprofit programs that serve the community.

"We'll see how it evolves. Clearly, this is a big part of our game presentation and a big part of the DNA of the Lightning organization, and so in some way we're going to continue into next season and beyond," Vinik said. "There may be a twist on it, we may change things up a little bit and we'll talk about that toward the end of the season.

"This is so fantastic what we're able to do and the impact we have. We're very lucky; [being] the owner of a professional sports team gives me the profile to be able to have an impact in the community, and why wouldn't you want to keep doing that?"

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