11/25/09 4:00 PM EST
Obama inspires White Sox in community
President and No. 1 fan is force behind Volunteer Corps
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
There also were $1.6 million awarded in grants and special donations, bringing that grand total to $16.5 million handed out since the inception of White Sox Charities in 1990.
But those astounding charitable efforts paled in comparison to the White Sox community outreach's top highlight from 2009, according to senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly. For that particular No. 1 moment in the past and actually moving forward -- the launch of the organization's Volunteer Corps -- the White Sox can thank the nation's First Fan as a source of inspiration.
"We've just begun to scratch the surface of something so amazing," said O'Reilly, pointing out that Volunteer Corps took flight the day after President Barack Obama's inauguration. "Politics aside, we really focused on what President-elect Obama was saying.
"He lives in our hometown, he's a neighbor and a self-proclaimed avid White Sox fan, so we couldn't help but hear what he said. His message was that now is the time for Americans to step up as a caring and compassionate community and try to make a positive effect on the community around."
O'Reilly mentioned how the White Sox fans and members of the organization did so much already in giving back to the community. But the organization never had found a way to include the fan in a "shoulder-to-shoulder, stand-beside-us type of program."
So, the Volunteer Corps was put into motion, albeit without a great deal of early expectations and a sense of not really knowing what would happen. And what happened was results that were truly amazing, a word O'Reilly said she found herself using over and over again.
More than 3,000 corps members signed up at whitesox.com. There were 13 different service opportunities presented, and the White Sox had almost 1,400 participate in one or more of those events, leading to 5,400 service hours.
Fifty team members, including current players, manager Ozzie Guillen, his coaching staff, front-office personnel, former players and White Sox mascot Southpaw, also showed up at the various activities. This commitment from within the organization comes as little surprise for a unit run by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who takes pride in his team making a difference on and especially off the field.
"We want to do good things. We want to do the right thing," said Reinsdorf in a recent written statement given when he received the inaugural Champions for Children's Award at a benefit at the Palmer House Hilton in support of Children's Memorial Hospital. "We want to make the world a better place. I would rather be remembered as somebody who did some good than somebody who ran a baseball team."
"It starts from the head down, with Jerry being the owner and the chairman," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who made the trip from Florida to Chicago to also be part of the Champions for Children's benefit, hosted by Kerry and Sarah Wood. "White Sox Charities have given a ton of money to different organizations. It's something Jerry really believes in, and it's great. People give a lot of money to come watch us play, and anything we can do help them, it really means the world to them and then to us."
Now, chances exist for White Sox fans to work with Pierzynski or John Danks or Gordon Beckham, repackaging food at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, as an example, making a definitive difference.
Traditional White Sox charitable events took place, such as the Picnic in the Park and Field of Greens, along with the second annual Double Duty Classic celebrating Negro League baseball. The team has continued to support Children's Home + Aid, a charity championed by Paul Konerko and Jim Thome, and despite Thome's apparent departure, the White Sox remain the presenting sponsor at the Joyce Thome Benefit for Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria this January, hosted by Thome and his wife, Andrea.
Yet in the White Sox most recent "Beyond the Diamond" newsletter, there's an entire page devoted to activities from the Volunteer Corps. On May 9, the Corps' first organized event, 324 volunteers served 1,296 hours at Valentine and Holy Angels Boys & Girls Clubs in partnership with City Year Chicago and Care Force. Twelve rooms, four hallways and more than 70 murals were painted, 18 benches and 12 bookcases were built and two outdoor playground spaces were painted and enhanced.
Another of the many examples came on July 8, when the Volunteer Corps worked in partnership with the American Red Cross and Rush University Medical Center to collect 63 units of blood.
At the bottom of this particular page, two lines sum up this great new venture: A fan base activated. A city transformed. And that accomplishment just might be more amazing than the money raised by the organization.
"I found myself saying, 'You amaze me and inspire us' so many times," O'Reilly said. "Look at how our fans continue to challenge us and look at how committed our fans were to serve.
"That outreach hasn't stopped just because we are in the offseason. It may sound trite, but it was an incredible team effort. It became an authentic service program."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.