CHICAGO -- It's not much of a leap to take in declaring the White Sox Amateur City Elite youth baseball program as a tremendous success.
For further proof, take a look at the beaming faces of parents and family members as 12 players from the program signed letters of intent to play baseball at the Division I college level last Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field. The sign of ultimate greatness for this endeavor, though, differs ever so slightly among those at the core of its inception and growth.
"I always said I would think this program was a success if we send kids to college," White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly said following this recent event. "Some of the coaches [in the program] said they will say it's a success when that first ACE kid leaves him a ticket to a big league game.
"That makes me get all choked up. To even think that possibility exists, and it could be a reality, it affects me emotionally. It touches me at the core. That's what the program is about."
According to the White Sox, the ACE program provides the chance for rising stars ranging from 13 to 18 in the inner-city baseball community to play against other highly competitive groups on a traveling team. Eighty athletes from ACE have gone on to play in college, while six have been chosen in the First-Year Player Draft, supporting the program's core theory that disadvantaged youth can gain a college education and possibly even a pro career.
Simply put, it's one of the crown jewels among an unwavering and ongoing White Sox commitment to the community, beginning with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, that includes raising more than $1.4 million in 2012 through Chicago White Sox Charities fundraising. ACE is joined by the Volunteer Corps as two of the White Sox most unique endeavors, with the Volunteer Corps tapping into the team's fan base as willing, able and energized participants to give back.
"With the way they've responded and the way they clamor for more opportunities, it's just invigorating," O'Reilly said. "It really keeps us going and keeps us, you just keep saying, 'What more can I do?'"
In 2012, the Volunteer Corps served a total of 5,162 hours at 27 service events by the White Sox estimation. More than 1,037 Volunteer Corps members took part in these events and 15 White Sox team members made appearances at some of the service events throughout the season. The value of these volunteer hours, based on the U.S. Department of Labor ($21.79 per hour), was nearly $113,000.
Food repacks at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, restoring Kozminski Community Academy, sorting books at Bernie's Book Bank and building a playground at the Kroc Center in partnership with KaBOOM! stand as just a few of the programs worked on by the Volunteer Corps. And this work certainly doesn't involve showing up at a location, milling around for a bit and then flashing a few smiles for a photo opportunity.
We're talking hauling away pieces of concrete, taking hammers to nails and painting. It's all done with the White Sox as the facilitator, much the same basic role the White Sox serve with their ACE teams.
"We know fundamentally it's the individual player and the individual's family that allowed these opportunities to come to fruition and to convert on these opportunities," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn of the ACE process last Thursday at the ballpark. "They should take a special sense of pride. I can only image what it's like to be in their shoes and I'm happy the White Sox were able to play a small role in making this happen."
"They tell us how they'd love to get together, so we continue to do things in the offseason," said O'Reilly, referring back to the Volunteer Corps. "It's amazing the camaraderie that has developed and the friendships that have developed through the Volunteer Corps."
This White Sox Volunteer Corps was established in 2009, with more than 2,000 people responding just a few weeks after the initial email was sent out. O'Reilly smiles and recounts that it became an "uh oh" moment in trying to figure what they were going to do with such a huge response, but she again explains that it's energizing and challenging in a positive way for the organization.
"Because the response is so terrific and so positive and the fans are sending us ideas, it just keeps us going that we can do more," O'Reilly said.
Since the Volunteer Corps' 2009 inception, they have served 23,436 hours (valued at $502,747), more than 5,000 Corps members took part in service events and there were 131 appearances at these events by White Sox team members. Two Corps opportunities are coming up at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, along with work at a food bank in Naperville, not to mention the White Sox partnership with the Red Cross in which the team encourages all Volunteer Corps members to support the Red Cross' holiday cards for troops initiative.
These numbers provided by the White Sox show a tangible reward within this work, joined by a fundraising increase of approximately $250,000 more than 2011 courtesy of the generous support from White Sox fans and sponsors. But it's something like watching first-generation college kids sign their letters of intent that gives this work an even greater personal feel for O'Reilly.
"The fact that college coaches across the country are coming into Chicago's inner city looking at our ACE program to find talent, it's amazing," O'Reilly said. "It just didn't used to be that way.
"It's getting these kids to play baseball but it's doing it our way, the White Sox way. It's not just developing their athleticism, but helping with academics and helping them so they are given every opportunity in the world."