Rays' staff joins relief efforts in Florida Keys

November 22nd, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG -- Giving back has been the Rays' mantra ever since principal owner Stuart Sternberg's group took over the franchise following the 2005 season.

Heading into Thanksgiving, that shared sense of community and wanting to give back was never more evident than through the team's recent financial contributions and volunteer efforts to help those in need in the Florida Keys.

Ten employees of the Rays traveled to the Florida Keys to help the relief effort from Hurricane Irma, and to distribute $100,000 in grants to 12 nonprofit organizations.

Jenn Tran, Rays vice president of human resources and organizational engagement, and Bill Wiener, vice president of employee and community development, led the effort.

"The reason we were so passionate about it is, we go down there with our families, and we go down there together with our families," Wiener said. "And we kind of felt like they were being forgotten about after Maria, with Puerto Rico being most everybody's focus."

So they took the idea of providing relief to the Florida Keys to team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman.

"When we went to Brian and Matt and said we really want to get some money down to the Keys, they said, 'Do it,'" Tran said. "They pretty much left it up to us to decide who we should help."

The decisions were made after researching nonprofit organizations in the hardest-hit areas and consulting with Rays community partners for recommendations.

"In talking to folks down there, they said, 'Did you hear about this group? Did you hear about that group?'" Tran said. "Then it just organically kind of came together. And we heard about individual people, too, who were really on the ground doing the work."

In addition, several Rays staff members donated supplies to the Florida Keys SPCA, Southernmost Homeless Assistance League and Wesley House Family Services, and they volunteered in an estuary cleanup project.

Recipient organizations and their Hurricane Irma relief missions include: AIDS Help, Community Foundation Florida Keys, Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys, Florida Audubon Society, Florida Keys Children's Shelter, Florida Keys Community College, Mote Marine Laboratory, Redemption Impact, Reef Relief, Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, Keys Vineyard Community Church and Wesley House Family Services.

The Rays also funded a Thanksgiving meal that will feed 500-plus in Sugarloaf Key on Thanksgiving Day.

Other Rays employees taking part in the weeklong effort: Brian Plexico, John Pope, Ashley Austin, Mike Yodis, Jim Watkins, Jackie Van Sant, Trevor Godbolt and Devin O'Connell.

Though their effort has run its course, the needs are still great for those in the Florida Keys.

"The needs are so high down there, and they change on a daily basis," Wiener said. "Like they said, they have enough bottled water for a year. So they don't need any more water."

Added Tran: "They need manpower, in the construction realm, mostly now, to help dig out from this mess that they're under."

Giving back has been ingrained into the mindsets of Rays employees.

"It's part of our DNA," Tran said. "We volunteer, we fund as many things as we can. It's just part of us here at the Rays. It's very gratifying."