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Tampa Bay Lightning owner Vinik pledges $50,000 per home game to nonprofits

Sometime during the Lightning's home opener, a collage of faces will appear on the scoreboard, eventually forming a Lightning bolt.

Stirring music will play in the background. A compelling video will follow, highlighting a person's contributions to a nonprofit and how he changed the lives of many.

At the end of the presentation, this "community hero" will receive a check for $50,000 to give to the nonprofit of his choice.

And then the Lightning Foundation will repeat this magnanimous gesture at the next home game and the next home game and the next home game.

Yes, the Lightning will give a different nonprofit $50,000 at each of 41 home games in the 2011-12 season. I'll do the math for you: That's $2,050,000.

The team's new Lightning Community Hero program's big dollars make up just part of the $10 million Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, in February pledged to give to local charities.

Apparently, that pledge will be delivered with fanfare.

"We want something really dramatic," said new Lightning Vice President of Philanthropy and Community Initiatives Elizabeth Frazier. "We want the fans to know it's 'community time.'

"We want to celebrate the hero, honor his or her organization and inspire the audience. At the end of that video presentation, we want 20,000 fans on their feet hooting and hollering just like they do for goals."

This week the team launched the first of three nominating periods at Anyone 13 or older can submit an entry, providing a little information about himself and inspiring words about his nominee.

Once the foundation receives the nomination, it will contact the hero to share the nominating information and ask to designate a 501(c)(3) that reflects or supports the person's good works in one of seven Tampa Bay counties: Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota.

The foundation will appoint a committee of season-ticket holders and local leaders to select finalists. The ultimate selection will be made by the board of directors.

More details about the criteria can be found on the website, but it's important to note the rules because the foundation will closely monitor who will get the grant and how it will be spent.

These aren't throw-away dollars for a publicity stunt.

In addition to the new program, Frazier said, employees will invest 4,000 hours a year in helping nonprofits. They'll do so on company time, thanks to Vinik.

The Lightning also will have "All-In" events in which they bring together employees, season-ticket holders and community partners.

"I get the joy of giving away $10 million, but it's about more than the money," Frazier said. "It's really about creating a culture within the organization that hopefully goes throughout the community."

The goal of leading by example can't be diminished.

At a time when some nonprofits worry about their very existence, the Viniks' generosity comes as welcome news.

But they can't do it alone.

Frazier said the organization won't be afraid to inspire by pulling a few heartstrings.

"We don't want a dry eye in the house."

Tears of joy are so much better than tears of sorrow.

That's all I'm saying.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Vinik pledges $50,000 per home game to nonprofits 07/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 9:42pm]
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