Youth Foundation Changes

October 20, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation has a new executive director, a new president, two new board members and a new fundraising event — along with a new year that looks pretty promising.

"We recently announced three significant changes to our board of directors with the naming of Lynn Rabaut as executive director, the elevation of Bob Kasar to president, and the welcoming of Randy Cleves to the board," said Pamella DeVos, chairwoman and founder of the Youth Foundation and co-owner of the Griffins AHL franchise with her husband, Dan, and David Van Andel.

Kasar is executive director of broadcasting and community relations for the Griffins, while Cleves directs public relations for the hockey team.

A few days after her announcement of the changes, DeVos revealed that Davenport University President Randy Flechsig also joined the board.

The foursome joins returning board members Terri DeBoer, Scott Gorsline, Scott Jacobs, Tim Masek and Tom Hiller in the foundation's 12th year of focusing on underserved and at-risk youth in the city.

Rabaut, a former two-term city commissioner, became executive director in June. She began serving as the interim director in April, when Michael Sekulich stepped down from the post.

But she unofficially started about a dozen years ago when her husband, local attorney and former high school hockey coach Lou Rabaut, was named the foundation's first president. When Lynn decided not to seek a third term on the commission, Lou asked her to donate some of her time to the Youth Foundation and she began working with Sekulich in January.

"We have lots of goals and this is one of them. We have successfully and totally filled our program before it even begins. We are totally filled, and we have more diversity this year in all respects — sex, income, race; you name it — which is great," said Rabaut of the nearly 300 kids enrolled in the programs.

The Youth Foundation offers free skating and hockey instruction to inner-city elementary and middle school children who normally wouldn't get such an opportunity. The foundation also has an instructional hockey program exclusively for girls and offers it in tandem with the Girl Scouts of Michigan Trails.

The organization has also partnered with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital to host the state's only sled hockey program, which is designed for physically disabled kids who are mostly between the ages of 8 and 16. These kids come from all over the state to take part in the Saturday morning program.

"They travel out-of-state two or three times a year for competition. They are going to nationals and regionals, and two of the players were asked to try out for the all-star national team," said Rabaut.

"We pay for all of their ice time and all of their equipment."

The Mary Free Bed Fund, the philanthropic arm of the hospital, bought the sleds, and Rabaut said this year more kids than ever are participating in the program. The team, known as the Sled Wings, has a big role in the foundation's newest fundraising event.

Last year, the Sled Wings played an exhibition against the Griffins that drew so many fans to Griff's IceHouse at Belknap Park that admission will be charged to this year's game and all the proceeds will go to the foundation.

"Three days before it actually happened last year, somebody said why don't we have the Griffins players get into sleds and play against the Sled Wings? And it was a hoot. It was so much fun, and we really did well in attendance. The guys' wives came. The kids' parents came. So this year, we're making it a fundraiser," said Rabaut.

The Youth Foundation has two other annual fundraisers.

One is the Great Skate. It features Griffins players and coaches taking turns skating with fans on the outdoor ice at Rosa Parks Circle for 24 consecutive hours. The weekend event has raised about $12,000 each year from sponsors and fans. A date hasn't been set yet for this year's skate, but it will either take place in the middle of January or in early February.

The other fundraiser is the annual Griffins golf outing, and this past summer the event raised what Rabaut believes was a record amount for the Youth Foundation.

"We did real well. We did over $92,000, clear after expenses. I believe that is a record. We had a wonderful day," she said.

The new fundraiser featuring the Sled Wings is important for the foundation. It replaces the one the organization had with the Red Wings, when the Detroit NHL franchise held its annual Red and White intra-squad game at the arena. All the proceeds from the end-of-training-camp exhibition went to the foundation and put at least $50,000 into its coffers each year.

But the last one was held in 2003, and none are on the books for the coming years.

"We used to get a third of our budget from the Red and White game. Since that is now gone, we've really had to pick up our end of the fundraising to make this work. We really struggled for a few years to turn that around and get back on track," said Rabaut. "And I think we're going to do it this year."

The Youth Foundation also works with Clancy Street Ministries to introduce kids each month to skating and each other, offers a summer roller hockey program, and provides all the skates for the public skating at Rosa Parks Circle.

"The board has been reorganized and created committees that are much more focused," said Rabaut. "Hopefully, with my connections, with the community being more aware, and with more families being involved, we're going to pull it off this year."    

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