White Sox recognized for philanthropic efforts

White Sox recognized for philanthropic efforts

White Sox recognized for philanthropic efforts
CHICAGO -- Another typical year of giving back for the White Sox in regard to their connection with the surrounding Chicago community became award-winning last week in Milwaukee.

The White Sox received the Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence, an honor created in 2010 to recognize outstanding community efforts of a Major League club. Their Volunteer Corps sits at the heart of this honor, as acknowledged by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB at the General Managers and Owners Meetings, which also brought with it a $10,000 grant from MLB.

But moving into its fourth year of operation, the Volunteer Corps is not about gaining recognition for the White Sox. In fact, that pat on the back never has been remotely close to the program's focus.

Instead, the design centers on giving White Sox fans an opportunity to join together and make a difference for those who need the assistance. Those ardent supporters have responded in an enthusiastic manner that the White Sox couldn't have imagined, even in the best laid-out plans.

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"It really has been amazing," said White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly of the Volunteer Corps. "I use the word 'inspiring' and 'inspired' when talking about the volunteers.

"How these people have come together as a community, it's this community we created and these people are so on board and giving of themselves to do something and make a positive impact. Their energy and their enthusiasm and commitment, the vibe at all these events, it's palpable. You can literally feel it. It's amazing to us."

According to O'Reilly, new people are signing up all the time for the Corps, and the volunteer total has surpassed the 5,000 mark.

"Isn't that crazy?" O'Reilly said. "Everyone wants to be part of a mission for knowing there's something being done."

More than 17,000 hours of community service has been performed through the White Sox Volunteer Corps, with offseason options already having been lined up and emailed to potential participants. The White Sox Corps also put forth labor valued at more than $380,000 through volunteer hours and is responsible for more than $510,000 to nonprofit partners to help with the planning and execution of service events, as mentioned in the release announcing the Commissioner's Award recipient.

Getting to interact with White Sox players or other high-ranking members of the organization, including chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Ken Williams, is a fan bonus derived from working with the Corps. But O'Reilly has noticed a secondary development emanating from this White Sox organized hard work.

Fans are doing things on their own, after the White Sox sort of showed them the way.

"They are paying it forward," O'Reilly said. "People are taking it to heart, making an impact in their own community."

A 2010 fundraising level of around $1.2 million was maintained by the White Sox in 2011, which O'Reilly points to as another testament to the generous support and passion shown by fans, sponsors and friends of the White Sox. They have all come together to make a difference.

White Sox Charities Week, which ran from Aug. 16-21, stood out as the embodiment or the definitive snapshot of this community outreach program. A.J. Pierzynski, Chris Sale and Matt Thornton played video games with active military members overseas to start the week with a "Pros vs. G.I. Joes" activity, while Brent Morel, Sergio Santos and bullpen coach Juan Nieves helped run a baseball clinic for children from Chicago Special Olympics.

There also was work done at the Greater Chicago Food Depository mobile pantry and a visit paid to Children's Memorial Hospital. Through special in-game, online auctions and unique ballpark fundraising events, the third annual Chicago White Sox Charities Week surpassed the first two by raising $182,809. That total represents the most Chicago White Sox Charities has raised during a one-week period, and brings the three Charities Weeks' total to more than $490,000.

Five high school players from the White Sox Amateur City Elite program (ACE) signed letters of intent to participate at the Division I college level during a November ceremony at U.S. Cellular Field. Much like the Volunteer Corps, the ACE program has topped organization expectations since its inception in 2007.

"To see it grow and to see the things come about the way they have, it has really been heartwarming," Williams said of the program designed to let inner-city rising stars play against other competitive traveling groups, while giving them academic and athletic instruction to prepare for their future. "And again it has been certainly worthwhile doing it. They are impressive young men."

Reinsdorf always has set the philanthropic tone for this culture of giving, but Ozzie Guillen was equally generous with his time and support during his eight years at the managerial helm. Guillen has since moved on to the Miami Marlins, but with Robin Ventura in place as the team's new leader, the community commitment transition should be absolutely seamless.

Ventura simply will carry forth the charitable spirit learned about and executed as a player.

"You kind of grow up knowing that's what this organization does," said Ventura, who was involved with Children's Memorial during his playing days. "They gave me chance to go do that stuff. It's a very important part of the organization, and I'm proud of carrying that on."

"This community outreach and engagement has been in place for years and transcends any individual," said O'Reilly, mentioning Ventura's hospital visits and association with Make-A-Wish Foundation kids as a player. "Robin is going to be an ambassador, a spokesperson, a leader. He'll make sure we maintain that culture of community engagement for so very long."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.