Many argue that the Chicago Fire are being outclassed by other clubs in Major League Soccer, usually when discussion turns to players bought and contracts renewed - but there is one area in which the Fire are performing well above their weight class as an organization. The Chicago Fire Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CF97, has gone from strength to strength in its efforts to give back to the community, both through charitable donations and programs such as PLAYS, Passback and Kicks for Kids.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Fire Foundation was recognized for its philanthropic efforts by the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, when it was announced as a finalist for the 10th annual 2014 Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy. The Chicago Fire Foundation (CFF) was recognized along with six other finalist who will be considered for three separate prizes. The Fire's charitable wing is being considered along with Jays Care Foundation (Toronto Blue Jays, MLB) and the Portland Timbers (MLS) in the category for professional sports teams. (The other two categories are for individual coaches/athletes and professional sports leagues.) The CFF could potentially share the stage with other sports philanthropy organizations such as the Tiger Woods Foundation, the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, Playworks and Harlem RBI.
Steve Patterson was a member of three NCAA championship basketball teams at UCLA and was known for his contributions off the court for uniting the community. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who's mission is "to improve the health and health care of all Americans", created the award to honor his philanthropic efforts. The winners of the Patterson Award will be announced on September 18th, 2014 at an exclusive event in Princeton, New Jersey.
The CFF was established at the club's beginning in 1998, and was the first non-profit created by any MLS club. Since its inception, the CFF has contributed more than $1.5 million to various Chicagoland causes, fundraisers and charities. Although there are many other achievements and causes supported by the foundation, the group is known for its programs that support the health and wellness of the community through soccer programs.
As a contributor to Hot Time in Old Town and a writer of the Around the Campfire segment I often reflect on the Chicago Fire Foundation events as ways to build community and connect with other Fire fans. Since many readers of Hot Time are like me - loyal, committed fans - it is easy to get wrapped up in the tight-knit social community that surrounds the Chicago Fire. Even though the CFF hosts some wonderful and fun events such as the Brew and Bites and the White party, it is important not to forget the initial purpose of these events is to raise money for good causes. I encourage everyone who is a fan of the Fire to find ways to contribute to the foundation whether through donations or volunteering.
I am proud to be a fan of a sporting organization that puts such a large focus on giving back to the community, especially since it focuses so much on giving back to the people of Chicago. I wish the Chicago Fire Foundation the best of luck in winning this prestigious reward. We'll keep our eyes on the results for September.