Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero program a jewel in bay area's social calendar

“The stories are heartbreaking, but pure joy,” Elizabeth Frazier says of the entries in the Lightning’s Community Hero charitable program.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

“The stories are heartbreaking, but pure joy,” Elizabeth Frazier says of the entries in the Lightning’s Community Hero charitable program.

Compiling this year's Social Calendar made me think of weddings. Among the slew of fundraisers, I kept seeing something old, new, borrowed or blue.

New — and flaunting the team's shade of royal blue — would be the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation's generous Community Hero program, commencing at the first home game, Oct. 17.

That night, and at every one of the next 40 home games, one person will receive $50,000 to donate to a nonprofit organization of their choosing.

Even I can do that multiplication: $2.05 million handed out for doing good. What's more, it's just one-fifth of the $10 million Jeff and Penny Vinik pledged to local charities soon after buying the Lightning.

Who will these 41 folks be? People who are catalysts, inspirational, dedicated and selfless, according to nomination forms online. (Go to tampbaylightning.com/heroes.)

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for Tampa … and for me," says Elizabeth Frazier, 38, the hockey team's vice president of philanthropy and community initiatives since April 1. The third-generation Tampa native, a graduate of Berkeley Preparatory in Town 'N Country and Princeton, moved back last year after the unexpected death of her husband, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, from complications of heat stroke while running a marathon. Their children, Elliott, 5, and Ava, 7, now attend St. John's Episcopal Day School in Hyde Park, just as she did.

"The stories are heartbreaking, but pure joy," says Frazier, of the first 300 submissions for nominees who have given of themselves to help others. Videos about the heroes will be shown on jumbo monitors over the ice. In her head, Frazier already hears the stirring music heralding each one.

Frazier's team reviews and narrows the submissions to send to an advisory committee of business and community leaders, including season ticket holders. The committee selects finalists, then the foundation board, made up of Vinik, CEO Tod Leiweke and others, makes the picks.

Frazier expects an avalanche of nominations for the next two deadlines, Nov. 1 and Feb. 1.

"We know of no other program like it in the area, maybe the country,'' she said. "It's based on individual merit. Some (winners) are clear where the money will go, some are involved with several organizations. There are no defining parameters for how the money should be spent, but they will be expected to document where it goes."

• • •

Another something new on this year's social calendar: rappelling for HeartBeat International. On Nov. 19, the first 75 people who have raised at least $1,000 for this charity will strap on harnesses and rappel 22-stories from the roof of the Franklin Exchange building in downtown Tampa. (More information at heartbeatsaveslives.com.) Spectators may experience palpitations as they watch 280-feet below.

Something "borrowed" can be a supreme compliment when you're lifting ideas from New York's venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pavilion co-chairwomen Allison Adams and Renu Parker will offer two seating options — traditional table service or chic lounge mingling — when they host Tampa Museum of Art's 26th formal ball. Adams admired the creative layout when she attended the Met's glamorous Costume Institute gala.

In the category of things old, although quite popular, some very successful events have been scuttled as organizers take some time to reassess. This year, the Muscular Dystrophy Association extinguished its annual Hearts of Fire gala, "to focus on the national telethon,'' according to a local spokeswoman.

Likewise, Big Cat Rescue's tribal Fur Ball and WEDU's travel-themed Sojourn gala are on hiatus. The cat sanctuary staff and volunteers decided to concentrate all their time on advocacy. To make up for the lost revenue, supporters can stay home for a Phantom Fur Ball, and make a "ticket" donation via the website.

Sojourn is packed away while the public broadcasting station "gets back to basics, education and community-minded events, such as the Be More awards," says WEDU vice president of communications Allison Hedrick. She'll be analyzing manpower versus economic return before deciding when and if to bring it back.

Still, with 150-plus charity events listed in 2011-2012 calendar (see pages 6-7), there's still plenty of glitz to be planned. As guest, volunteer, sponsor or recipient, there are endless opportunities to make Tampa a better place. Don't be left at the altar.

Reach Amy Scherzer at ascherzer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3332.

Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero program a jewel in bay area's social calendar 09/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 5:30am]

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