Coming up on her one year anniversary as Executive Director of The Florida Panthers Foundation, Lauren Simone recalls the difference between the organization then and now.
“When I had come to the Panthers, the position had already been open for two years...not having any staff, the foundation had not had an event in a few years” said Simone.
Despite the lack of foundation led events, the Florida Panthers Foundation had been donating millions of dollars to charity for years, with little to no publicity of their donations.
When looking at the moral structure of the foundation, it’s no wonder that distribution of funds went under the radar. For the Florida Panthers Foundation, the importance of human generosity and giving back to those who sustain the community makes up the heart of the organization. Simone recognized these values, and has held steadfast to visibly restoring & expanding their charitable initiatives.
The inaugural Cats & Cocktails Event kicked off this effort in early February of this year. Cats & Cocktails was a small, intimate yet impactful event focused on raising funds to the fullest extent. That night, over $100,000 was raised between the silent auction, ticket sales, and live auction.
With a concentrated attendance to maximize output of the event, there was about a 1:1 ratio between players and guests attending the event. It was a successful launch that “allowed an intimate group of our fan base to give back to the community while interacting with the players” said Simone.
In addition to hosting singular events, the owners, Mr. Vincent Viola and Mr. Doug Cifu wanted to do more and add value to organizations already doing amazing things for the community and charged the Foundation with putting a process in place to do just that.
The Florida Panthers Foundation realized that there needs to be an open line of communication between the foundation, and local charities, so that the most pressing needs are funded. In order to fill in the necessary gaps of funding, the foundation will be launching the Community Champions Grant Application Program as a call to action for local 501(c)(3) organizations to apply for financial support. The Foundation will be committing $1,000,000 to the program and are focusing on four types of initiatives. These four priorities include building the game of youth hockey in south Florida, supporting children's health and education initiatives, supporting veterans, and advocating for the endangered Florida panther.
“We want to be strategic in how we support the community but we want a fair and consistent opportunity for everyone to apply” said Simone.
However, sometimes the greatest need comes unexpectedly. In line with this reality, the Florida Panthers are quick to respond in the face of tragedy.
During the early hours of June 12, 2016 Orlando endured the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter. Within 48 hours, Simone and her colleagues in the Community Relations team were at work organizing a blood drive to aid the survivors of the shooting. Hospitals and blood banks were being depleted at a rapid rate, but Simone recalled doubts about how many people would show up on such short notice.
“Nobody knew how successful the blood drive was going to be” recalled Simone.
Those worries subsided on the day of the drive when hundreds of people showed up and stood in line to donate. In fact, the blood drive was scheduled to end at 7:00 pm but instead didn’t wrap up until 11:00 pm, due to the influx of people showing up to give blood. The turnout far exceeded expectations and eventually an additional donation bus was brought in to accommodate the volume of people trying to donate.
“In the face of tragedy, people stood in lines for hours to donate blood to perfect strangers” Simone said.
Despite the horrific tragedy, Simone said seeing the community come together restored her faith in the people and place she called home.
In addition to collecting 75 pints of blood, the Florida Panthers Foundation accepted donations and matched every dollar raised to support survivors and their families. All in all, the foundation raised $5,000 for the fund.
Simone says that it’s easy to get discouraged with the horrors that take place. She reasons however, that the collective good is always there, and shines through especially during times of need.
“When there is so much bad happening, we forget that a lot of good goes on, and we’re reminded that we have to relish it” said Simone.