SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers continue to work tirelessly to leave a large indelible mark on the local community not only through their on-ice performance, but also through extensive charitable initiatives.
The Florida Panthers Foundation Community Champions Grant Program, presented by Moss Construction and the Moss Foundation, launched this season with the goal of building stronger, long-lasting relationships with local charitable organizations through financial donations and in-game exposure.
"We didn't want a situation where we were just cutting checks to people," Panthers President & CEO Matthew Caldwell said. "We really wanted to build relationships with these charitable organizations. We wanted them to believe in us and believe in our brand and what it represents. We wanted them to become part of our family."
Well, with the grant program's inaugural season officially in the books, Caldwell can now proudly say that the Panthers have welcomed 41 new members to their ever-growing family, as the Foundation recognized and awarded one organization with a grant for up to $25,000 during each home game of the team's 2016-17 campaign.
"This was something that our owners, Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, have talked about doing for a while," Caldwell said. "We were happy to finally able to sit down with our foundation director Lauren Simone and formulize a plan to make it happen. We had a donation at every game. It was great to see how happy and excited everyone was, not only for the money, but to just be a part of our Panthers family."
By seasons end, the Foundation's donations had totaled approximately $1 million.
"The program was a huge success," Panthers Foundation coordinator Danielle Jacobs said. "Having launched the Community Champions Program for the first time, we didn't know exactly what to expect. In the end, we were able to give $1 million back to the South Florida community.
"In addition to the financial investment, we also invested a lot of our own time in these organizations. We had volunteers at numerous local charitable events, such as the Best Buddies Walk and the American Heart Association Heart Walk. We're just trying to do our part to help build these relationships and strengthen the community."
When it came to selecting charities for the program, the Panthers did not limit themselves to one specific area. A group must be a 501(c)(3) organization or government agency serving the South Florida area to be eligible, but other than that the criteria for the grant was fairly wide open. From Zoo Miami to Best Buddies to ARC Broward, a large group of deserving and diverse groups were supported and highlighted throughout the season.
ARC Broward, for example, operates at 10 locations and provides 21 programs throughout Broward County, including ARC Broward's "mission-based" enterprises that provide training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and other life challenges.
"The organization depends on raising money from individuals and the community tremendously," said ARC Broward President and CEO Dennis Haas said, who was one of roughly 120 ARC Broward guests invited to watch the Panthers battle the Boston Bruins on Nov 1. "To have this kind of opportunity with the Panthers, it's great to be recognized for what we do. We're a part of the Panther family forever, and they're a part of ours."
With four years remaining on their five-year, $5 million commitment to improving the local community, the Panthers Foundation is already eagerly awaiting the next group charitable organizations that will join their family next season.
"We want to reach more people," Caldwell said. "There are great charities out there we haven't even touched yet. We think this is a really great thing. It's growing every day and we are looking forward to adding to it for many years to come."
If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the Champions Grant Program next season, please visit this link to learn more.