Reds Community Fund gives back, year after year

November 22nd, 2022

CINCINNATI -- There are few entities that can mobilize hundreds of volunteers and descend on a community to aid with improvement projects that uplift and inspire its citizens. But that is something the Reds Community Fund has managed to do for nearly a decade and a half.

A philanthropic arm of the Cincinnati Reds, the Reds Community Fund has annually done community makeover events. It’s 13th such effort benefitted Lincoln Heights, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, in August.

“The community makeover project has probably become a piece of our DNA that people don’t know a lot about,” said Charley Frank, the executive director of the Reds Community Fund. “It’s really a massive logistical undertaking, but it begins with these genuine community connections that the Reeds have developed over the years.”

The Reds Community Fund has long championed programs that provide urban youth and the underserved with opportunities to play baseball and softball. In addition, it has helped renovate neighborhood ballfields, which eventually evolved into something bigger.

Since 2010, the RCF’s Community Makeover has invested more than $10 million and countless volunteer hours into some of Greater Cincinnati’s neediest communities. This year, it is one of five finalists for MLB’s Allan H. Selig Award for Philanthropic Excellence. The winner will be revealed during the Winter Meetings.

The community makeovers transform at least one ballfield, but they entail much more in scope. For Lincoln Heights, a village of approximately 3,300 residents founded in 1947 as the first African American self-governing community north of the Mason-Dixon Line, there were six different project sites. There was also a community cleanup day held in June that served as an unofficial kickoff to the makeover.

“There are so many layers to the makeover that make it work. There is an unusually large volunteer team,” Frank said.

For this project, the total of corporate and marketing volunteers numbered near 500. They came from local companies like Procter & Gamble, the Cincinnati Zoo, GE Aviation and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“It was by far our largest workforce,” Frank added. “We needed it, because we had a very ambitious scope throughout the neighborhood with six different project sites. Before we even get into the dollars and in-kinds that we raise, which is well in excess of $1 million, we need to recruit the volunteers and deploy the volunteers. This requires, really, a year-round effort. A lot of that is led by our P&G partnership. And we’ve learned over the years when you mobilize hundreds of volunteers in one community, there is no such thing as a rain date. Work needs to get done.

“We make sure it’s a very robust, meaningful day of work and collaboration so the volunteers not only want to come back but will also think of this as one of their better days in the office throughout the year. That’s what we hear from many of them -- that it’s one of their favorite days of the year.”

The GE Aviation campus is located in Evendale, which is just across Interstate 75 from Lincoln Heights. Besides investment and volunteers, its employees have institutional knowledge of the area. The Zoo donated dozens of trees and hundreds of perennial plants along with horticultural support. The village of Lincoln Heights also helped itself by fundraising for six-figure dollars via Hamilton County and its other partners.

Beyond that, it took a village’s worth of elbow grease to put it all together.

“One of the most exciting parts to me is that the Reds are the introduction to these neighborhoods,” Frank said. “We’re involved in every aspect of the makeover, but there are others that invest more dollars, more staff. But the Reds have a unique role in that we’re sort of the relationship piece, the door-opener. It’s our brand out there, first and foremost, so we need to make sure that every angle of these projects is really well thought out, that they engage the neighborhood.”

A major component of the makeovers is that the changes are lasting for each community. The Reds and their partners have often handled that aspect, but the Community Fund is looking at partnering with the United Way for an ongoing sustainability role.

“Our goal is to roll up our sleeves and get to the next neighborhood,” Frank said. “We hope to infuse enough knowledge and connection in the neighborhoods that we’re leaving so they can continue to keep up the project work. But having something built in with a partner like the United Way is the next frontier for the collaboration as a whole.”

For more information on all of the philanthropic work done by the Reds Community Fund, click here.