CHICAGO -- The past year's work with Chicago-based Ronald McDonald Houses truly sums up the all-encompassing philanthropic nature of White Sox Charities.
"It encapsulates all the elements that we are all about in making a meaningful difference," said Christine O'Reilly, White Sox senior director of community relations and executive director of White Sox Charities.
Four Ronald McDonald Houses exist in the Chicagoland area, with a fifth breaking ground in 2014. White Sox Charities made a significant, six-figure contribution to the Ronald McDonald House associated with Lurie Children's Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in support of pediatric oncology research and families impacted by cancer, but their support goes well beyond this important donation.
A White Sox-themed area was built inside this particular House, which is the largest of its kind in the nation, featuring 15 stories and 86 guest rooms for families of hospitalized children. That focus fell upon a two-part design on the roof area, with a healing garden for the parents and a mini-U.S. Cellular Field for the kids.
"Just to create a little bit of a place where families can go up and have a respite from the tough thing they are facing," O'Reilly said.
A field was dedicated June 11, with pitchers Chris Sale, Jesse Crain and Gavin Floyd joining White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and senior executive vice president Howard Pizer on hand for the ceremonial first pitch. Improving the quality of life for these children and their families stood as an uplifting result coming from an unfortunate situation.
"I don't think we can imagine what these people go through," said Reinsdorf at the time of the dedication. "It's great that McDonald's started the Ronald McDonald House. What we do is a pittance compared to what needs to be done."
"Definitely makes you be thankful for what you have," said Sale, also speaking at the event five months ago. "It's kind of how I live my life and even playing baseball. Don't get upset about what you don't have or what you could have. But appreciate the days you do have and the fun times you are having. Not everyone gets to live their life that way."
Some of the players' wives returned to the Lurie House and did cookie decorating with families. Making cookies had that homey feeling for a place that is designed to be a home away from home.
Three groups from the White Sox Volunteer Crops visited the House to put up holiday villages and lights. There are 30 sponsor trees on the rooftop at the Lurie House, per O'Reilly, and the White Sox have one of them. Staff members decorated that tree last Thursday.
Another volunteer staff of 12 White Sox employees went to the Ronald McDonald House near the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital and created a home-cooked meal in the house kitchen.
"We did make a six-figure gift to the Ronald McDonald House, Lurie Children's Hospital," O'Reilly said. "But certainly while our funds were directed to that house, we wanted to make sure we offer outreach to all the Houses in the Chicago area."
Overall fundraising this year for White Sox Charities nearly reached the $1 million mark, and O'Reilly added the White Sox are still committed to having a "robust grant distribution." O'Reilly also was appreciative of the fans' support.
Part of that support comes from the Volunteer Corps, which just completed its fifth year. The White Sox have a holiday party on Dec. 10 where 500 people from the Boys and Girls clubs were invited, and put a call out for help from their Corps.
Thirty volunteers were needed. Within minutes, all 30 slots were filled and 50 people remain on the waiting list. That reaction shows the Volunteer Corps' passion to jump on every opportunity.
Their Amateur City Elite baseball program recently had a signing day in which 13 team members (12 in attendance) officially signed collegiate letters of intent. Not only are these accomplished young men becoming role models for other inner-city kids, but O'Reilly believes it's not an overstatement that college coaches and scouts are now coming back into Chicago baseball because of the ACE program.
All of these contributions add up to another strong year of White Sox community outreach. Their work with a great organization such as Ronald McDonald House, ranging from financial support to players' appearances to families staying at the House coming to games and meeting players on the field, sums up their outreach goal.