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Jays Care Foundation a Finalist for Prestigious Award

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Jays Care Foundation earns a spot among the best charitable organizations in sports.

The Blue Jays might not be at the top of the MLB for win-loss record, but there is a way that we are tops. Jays Care Foundation is one of three finalists for one of  the Steve Patterson Awards for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The winners will be announced on September 18th at the event in Princeton, New Jersey. For more information on the award, click on the link above.

Jays Care Foundation, along with the Portland Timbers (Major League Soccer) and the Chicago Fire Foundation (also MLS), are finalists for the Steve Patterson Award, in the category of professional sports team foundations and community relations. Since almost all professional sports teams have charitable foundations, making it to the final three is a great accomplishment.

In the category for individual athletes and professional coaches, Tiger Woods Foundation and the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism are the finalists. In the professional sports league, players associations and sports philanthropy organizations category, Playworks and Harlem RBI are the finalists.

This is the 10th anniversary of the Steve Patterson Awards, given to celebrate and promote "the selfless effort of those within the world of sports who make a difference in the lives of others around them".

I'm very proud that our Blue Jays have done such a great job of giving back the community and are making such a difference in the lives of so many across the country. I want to wish the Jays Care Foundation the best of luck, they really do deserve this honour. We'll follow-up in September to see if they win.

Wanting to learn more about this award we sent off some questions to Alisha Greenberg, the director of the Steve Patterson Award, and Danielle Bedasse, the executive director of the Jays Care Foundation.

First for Alisha Greenberg:

Who was Steve Patterson and why is this award named after him?

Steve is best known for playing under Coach Wooden at UCLA when they won three championships in 1969, 1970, 1971. He went on to become an NBA player, head coach at Arizona State and also chairman of the 1996 Super Bowl committee in Arizona. Beyond all of that, he worked to give back to his community and teach others to do the same. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation named this award in honor of Steve because of his legacy of making a difference in his community.

With pretty much every sports team having a charity group, picking the top 3 to be finalists for this award must be tough. What is the process?

Yes, it has been exciting to watch the field grow and to see more and more teams having a deeper impact in their communities. We go through a rather extensive selection process. Our committee is made up of industry experts, academic researchers, RWJF senior staff and past winners. The entire process spans two rounds over 12 weeks which includes calls with references and a thorough internal vetting.

What made Jays Care stand out?

What makes Jays Care so unique is the fact that they are serving all of Canada. It isn't just one city or one region but an entire country. Once we learned even more about the strategic approach and notable financial investments being made, it became clear they are a leader and deserving of this recognition.

And for Danielle Bedasse:

When did Jays Care get its start and what was its original mission?

Jays Care actually first got its start in 1992 after the Club's first World Series win, and the original mission was to provide programs and financial support for children's charities across the city of Toronto.

When did it start being funding projects Canada wide?

In 2007, the Club, ownership and the foundation's board of directors saw the opportunity to begin to grow our community investment platform through Jays Care Foundation. As Canada's only Major League team at the time, the goal was to ultimately have a marked impact for children and youth across the entire nation. In 2010, we officially began to fund programs and projects outside of the province and build our network of partner organizations to drive forward our mission of providing opportunities in sport, physical activity and education, and creating safe places to play, learn and grow for children and youth across Canada.

The Steve Patterson award is a huge honour. What does it mean to you?

Sport has the power to do so much good; it unites, it motivates, it excites, it provides an outlet, it builds community, it is fun at its core, and Steve Patterson truly believed and lived its virtues in using sport to bring awareness to social causes and all of his endeavours to improve the lives of so many. It is tremendous that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has created this area of recognition, and invested so much in organizations using sport for social impact. Because we know the heart, and the investment behind all of the teams, leagues and athletes working so hard to improve their communities, the Steve Patterson award is so special because of the recognition among our peers. Professional sport has such an important place in delivering on social good. It is tremendous to be recognized for our efforts off the field to use the team, our sport, our brand, our resources and assets to provide opportunities in sport and education with the goal of improving the lives of the tens of thousands of children we have set out to serve.

How much money does Jays Care raise in a year?

We raised close to $3 million in 2013 (net, before disbursements) and have a goal close to $3.6 million this year. We are on track to invest $3.2 million in 2014 in programs, grants and capital projects across Canada bringing us to 52 capital projects creating safe space for youth, national partnerships with Boys & Girls Clubs and the Y providing Rookie League programs in 140 communities across the country, $1 million partnership with Pathways to Education to provide support for kids to graduate High School and go on to post-secondary education, and a national partnership with KidSport to provide subsidized registration fees for children who otherwise can't afford to play organized baseball. And here at home, the Jays Care Community Clubhouse hosts more 2,800 children, youth and families annually from charitable organizations around the province for Blue Jays home games, not to mention, we have invested in hundreds of charitable organizations serving children through our Grand Slam Grants program.

Which are your favourite fundraisers?

Tough question! All of them! The Curve Ball and The Charity Golf Classic are our biggest (and fanciest), and the Charity Home Run Challenges are favorites because we get to do them across the country - the Sportsnet Charity Broadcast Auction presented by TD has been tremendous for not only giving our fans access to unique opportunities, but we have had so many terrific stories come from the fans that have purchased and participated in the experiences--it makes it really fun for us to get to make some of these once in a lifetime experiences come to life for fans that have supported the charity.

Also, last year, we started a Young Professionals Committee. We crossed our fingers and hoped to get a few interested people on board to help us with a fan fundraiser - well we had over 100 people apply and an amazing group of 25 individuals put together a CHANGE UP Campaign that raised $117,000 for Jays Care! This year they are at it again, they have expanded the network and in addition to the 20+ YP committee, we now have a Young Professionals Network of more than 150 people regularly engaged in our community efforts and fundraising on behalf of Jays Care. It is so exciting to see this passionate group of people so committed to helping us serve kids across Canada.

Can you tell us about a couple of your favourite Jays Care fund recipients?

Rookie League is one of my personal favorites for several reasons;

1) It's our program, in partnership with Toronto Community Housing (TCH), the Boys & Girls Clubs (BGC) of Canada and the Y...I know it reaches the kids that need the support, and we get to mold it and add to it, and edit as we go to make sure it meets the needs of the communities we serve. In 2009, when TCH came to us and said they needed to ensure that Rookie League had some type of focus or offering for youth (the program is geared to 6-12-year-olds--they were looking for something for 14+), we were able to work with our partner to develop a Rookie League Champions youth employment program. Now, we hire close to 200 youth each summer to help support Rookie League in their communities. Not only do they get practical experience, a paycheck, and something for their CV, they get training in conflict resolution, building a resume, coaching certification, etc. And they are ambassadors for the Rookie League kids in their own communities. I think it has made the program that much stronger and more relevant and I know that the employment opportunities are also working to give many youth alternatives to negative influences in their neighborhoods.

2) We have been able to build Rookie League into something very powerful across the country, we have a "community" of 8,000+ Rookie Leaguers in 140 communities now, and growing. And we get to experience different parts of Canada through them. Just last week we sent our Rookie League team from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to MLB's Jr. RBI Classic just before the MLB All-Star Game in Minnesota. These kids from the BGC came together through the Rookie League program this past year, from a variety of different backgrounds, nationalities (newcomers to Canada and first nations), and they became a team. Then, they rallied an entire community behind their experience and from the feedback we have received from kids, parents and the Club, it was a life-changing opportunity and experience. That means more than I can properly express.

3) It's a true partnership, we work together, we collaborate, we bring in new partners when needed and we share the ideas and the progress and the opportunities with others. When one of our other local professional teams was looking for a community outreach program, they modeled their investment (a soccer program) on what we have done with Rookie League. Because we have put so much emphasis on the partnership, TCH was able to easily replicate the experience in a different sport and different season, and we were in full support because it built on our efforts providing additional opportunities for the kids we know really benefit.

OK...since you asked for a couple...here is another one of "ours"--the Jays Care Community Clubhouse--the genesis of this amazing space in our stadium was born out of the Roy Halladay's "Doc's Box". When Roy pitched for Toronto, he would host kids from SickKids hospital in his suite 6-10 times year. It was a terrific program and "Doc" did such a great job making these kids feel special. When he left for Philly, I knew we just couldn't lose that opportunity for kids so we asked the club for a suite and they generously offered us a double suite that we could use - the premise being to have a place where we could create a very special in-game experience for kids and community groups at every Blue Jays home game.

One of our Board members stepped up and helped to fund the renovations costs through his construction company, Urbacon, and the environmental design firm of Shikatani Lacroix donated the design of the space - keeping in mind all of the details we had asked them to consider. Now, and over the past 4 years, for every home game, we are able to provide a fantastic experience for kids, families and charitable groups - game tickets, food and beverages are included, guests get a visit from our mascot ACE, and a live hit on the videoboard...and sometimes even a visit from a Blue Jays player! R.A. Dickey hosted a group of kids one evening from BOOST, a charity serving kids who have been sexually abused. He spoke candidly about his own experience, and out of that evening, one of the girls said that she was able to tell her friends what had happened and felt so relieved to be "free".

Sergio Santos visited the Down Syndrome Association of Hamilton one evening, not realizing that his number (21) was such a significant number to people with down syndrome--the families were overwhelmed by the experience and the kids were over the moon with his visit. It is a very special place and we have had so many tremendous stories come out of there on any given night. It also gives us an opportunity to showcase a charity or a cause in game, giving it a presence and a voice - our fans look for our "community clubhouse" minute in game and connect with us through all of the charities and groups we support.

Next year, for the TV auction, could you stop taking bids on the ‘lot' I want after I make a bid? Every year I lose out in near the end. How much has been raised in those auctions?

You could always give us a pre-emptive bid of say...$25,000 or so!! The largest auction item we've sold to date was $23,000 for a trip on a private jet to Cooperstown, NY with Robbie Alomar and a private tour of the Hall of Fame with the Hall of Famer, so we have to outdo ourselves next year. This year was our most successful auction to date raising just over $250,000. We started the auction in 2009 and to date we have raised $737,220 cumulatively over the past 6 seasons. (Tom: I'm pretty sure my wife wouldn't go along with that plan, she's great and all, but there are limits, especially to my bank account).

Is there anything else you' like to tell us about Jays Care?

Just that it is a team effort, it is a Club effort, and as we grow it belongs more and more to our fans, our Young Professionals, our crew of volunteers, the charities and partnerships we have forged, and the tens of thousands of kids that see us over the course of their childhoods whether it be through programs we deliver, places we make safe, experiences we offer, or support we provide. That makes me proud.