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Champions on the field and off

Cardinals care copyBy ASHLEY BOOKS 

Beyond the baseball field, the Cardinals dedicate their time to helping St. Louis’ youth – specifically through Cardinals Care, the team charity.

“A lot of our players are very humbled by the fact that they get to do something they love and they get to make a very good living doing it,” said Keith Brooks, director of Cardinals Care. “They’re very conscious of the fact that they’re privileged in a lot of ways, and they want to give back to community, because this community supports them.”

Cardinals Care was founded in 1997 with the goal of helping children in the St. Louis area. Since then, the charity has refurbished 21 baseball fields to bring the sport to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to play. Redbird Rookies, the charity-sponsored league, provides children with sporting equipment and coaching, as well as various mentoring and support programs. And, it has awarded more than $11 million in funding to over 800 non-profit organizations.

Friends of Kids with Cancer is one of those recipient organizations. It has been involved with Cardinals Care for the past 12 years, receiving approximately $53,000 in grant funding. The money has helped fund the organization’s recreational and emotional programs, allowing it to purchase new children’s games for its doctor’s offices and supplies for its end-of-chemotherapy parties.

“People don’t realize that the children lose a huge part of their childhood. They’re not able to play on the baseball team. They’re not able to go to their prom. They’re not able to spend the night with friends or have birthday parties,” said Judy Ciapciak, executive director of Friends of Kids with Cancer.

Giving kids the opportunity to be kids is what Friends of Kids with Cancer is all about – and for most St. Louis kids that means going to a Cardinals game. So, Ciapciak said, grant money also goes toward special baseball outings for patients and their families. This includes front-row tickets, suite tickets or opportunities to meet the players on the field.

“It’s all about putting a smile on their face and making them forget (about cancer) for those four hours that they’re watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs,” she said.

The goal, Ciapciak said, is to get the kids to think: “You know what? I am not a kid with cancer. That is totally out of my mind today. I’m just here at the ballgame eating Cracker Jacks and hot dogs and just having a wonderful time with my parents.”

The children aren’t the only ones who benefit from these events.

“By sending these people (to the baseball games), it just makes them happy and brings that family together and builds on their self-esteem,” Ciapciak said. “Obviously the family is emotionally drained besides financially drained, so it really does something special for them emotionally, too.”

Erin Ott, a parent involved in Friends of Kids with Cancer, was grateful that her family could have this experience. Her son, Brian, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 3, enjoys St. Louis sports and was excited for the opportunity.

“There’s not a lot of normalcy as far as friendships and things like that,” Ott explained. “So, (the children) idolize these athletes, more so than probably the average child. (Going to these events) highlights their day, their week, their year.

“Financially you get strapped into the whole journey to where you want the fun things, you want to make every day special, but sometimes finances don’t allow that. So, Friends of Kids with Cancer, through their donations from Cardinals Care, will kick in and make that possible. It warms your heart as a parent, because you want to do everything you possibly can do for your child.”

Ott also is impressed with the impact the team and the charity has made in the St. Louis area.

“The outreach to this community is just wonderful,” she said.

For Ott and Ciapciak, what makes Cardinals Care such a powerful charity is the memories they provide patients and families at the end of the day.

“It’s all about memories,” Ciapciak said. “The Cardinals give so many memories, not only to the patients, but to the entire family.”

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