In its 26th year, the Nashville Predators Foundation’s annual Helper Grant Check Presentation Ceremony had its biggest day yet.

Distributing a record-breaking $825,995 at Ford Ice Center Bellevue on Tuesday, the Foundation saw 183 deserving local charities and nonprofit organizations leave with beaming smiles and the funds needed to continue their impactful work throughout the Nashville community.

While the day is certainly circled on every attendee’s calendar, few can likely match the enthusiasm for the event felt by former Predators Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor Gerry Helper, the program’s namesake.

“Today is really one of the best days of the year for the Predators and the Predators Foundation in that we get over 180 organizations in one room and they're all walking out with a smile, because they receive a check that helps them really do important work throughout the year,” Helper said. “So for us to be a part of that is special.”

It’s special too for the organizations on the receiving end.

“The Helper Grant is one of the reasons we can do what we do and we can get thousands of books to kids every year,” Nashville Book Connection Executive Director Clare Clarke said. “We could not do it without the Helper Grants, so we very much support this. And having gotten it two times, we are just extremely grateful and thrilled to be here.”

“It's a huge help,” Interim CEO & Chief Development Officer of St. Luke’s Community House Amy Shurden said. “This year, our grant is going to provide backpacks and school supplies for our preschool graduates, so they have a headstart on what they need for kindergarten, and will also help us cover the costs for food. We provide two meals and a snack every day for the children in our care. So we're helping meet their nutritional needs as well.”

Tuesday was marked by more historical significance than the record-breaking grant total.

Back in Nashville as the second general manager in franchise history, former Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz jumped at the opportunity to return to one of the pillars of the organization he helped create more than a quarter century ago.

“It’s very satisfying for me as someone who came in 1997 and was a part of this community for 15 years,” Trotz said. “I really enjoyed when I started getting involved with certain charities that asked me to get involved or that the Preds asked me to get involved in, and just seeing how [the Foundation] has grown to impact the community in such a positive way, it's incredible… It really shows how special this community is, because it is a really special community, and there's a special relationship with this franchise and what they do in the community. It's unparalleled.”

To be certain, Trotz is largely to thank for establishing that community-centered identity all those years ago.

“It was all part of the original culture that we were going to be more than a hockey team, that we were going to be hopefully an important, contributing part of the community - and Barry set the tempo for everyone else,” Helper said. “I look at the players we had in our early years, the Tom Fitzgeralds and Tomas Vokouns - they really went out and did the work beyond playing on the ice, and it made it easier then with every group of players thereafter. Our first guys did this, and this is part of being a Nashville Predator.”

Serving as proof of that sentiment on Tuesday was Predators netminder Juuse Saros, who spent his afternoon personally thanking each and every organization in attendance.

“I think the Predators have done an amazing job over the years in Nashville and in Tennessee,” Saros said. “I feel like that's what makes this whole community feel kind of like a family. It’s huge.”

Indeed, with hundreds of familiar faces gathered under the same roof for the first time in 12 months, Tuesday’s presentation ceremony was as much a family reunion as anything else.

“There are a lot of familiar faces, and again, you realize the important work they do day in and day out,” Helper said. “We often don't see them more than a couple of times a year to really appreciate the work that they have to do on a daily basis. And it's a challenging world in the community relations, charitable universe, so for them to receive some funds through this process is really rewarding to be a part of.”

With more than $10 million awarded in grant funding since the program’s inception in 1998, next year’s goal aims to see that total eclipse the $11 million mark.

“These types of days are really heartwarming to me,” Trotz said. “They gave almost $850,000 to the community, and the goal next year will be a million and the year after it will be even higher, and that's what this organization does. It just keeps building and building and helping and helping. And being a part of the community, that’s what makes this a really special franchise.”

Tuesday’s massive grant distribution helped the Predators Foundation near the finish line on ‘Million Dollar May,’ a month-long celebration that will see the group distribute a record-breaking $1 million to deserving Middle Tennessee nonprofits before June 1. Click here to learn more about the record-breaking initiative. And click here to learn more about the Helper Grant program and to see the full list of organizations that received a grant check in 2024.

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