© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

11/25/09 4:00 PM EST

Rays always there to help their community

Through grants, volunteerism, team giving back to nonprofits

ST. PETERSBURG -- Giving back to the community continues to be a recurring theme for the Rays.

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"We're always looking at how we can use the assets of the team to help nonprofits in the community, whether they be financial assets through the Rays Baseball Foundation or whether they be non-financial assets," said Rays director of community relations Suzanne Murchland. "Things like ticket donations, in-kind donations, partnerships in the stadium, the Rays are always looking at how we can use our assets to further the mission and help strengthen our community nonprofits."

The Rays Baseball Foundation is the charitable arm of the franchise, and its primary focus is on youth and education programs in the Tampa Bay area.

The foundation is funded through three main revenue streams: owner contributions, player contributions -- all the players who sign long-term contracts donate to the foundation -- and fundraising events throughout the year.

Three of the biggest fundraising events are the golf tournament in the spring, two broadcast auctions during the year and the "Shirts Off Our Backs" fundraising event in which the jerseys of Rays players are sold off their backs at the end of the season.

During the broadcast auction and the "Shirts Off Our Backs" fundraisers, the Rays partner with a community nonprofit organization. So the team is not only raising money for the foundation, but it is also raising money for a local nonprofit.

In addition, the foundation has three main grant programs. There is the community fund grant, which averages approximately $5,000 per grant; next is the field renovation program that the Rays oversee and pay for the refurbishing of a youth ballpark; and the third grant is the All-Star Grant program, which awarded $150,000 to three local nonprofit organizations this fall.

The Rays Baseball Foundation focuses primarily on youth and education programs in the Tampa Bay region that makes a measurable difference in the community. The foundation's All-Star Grant selection process begins in June, leading up to the final selections in August or September. The All-Star Grant provides substantial monetary support to help each community organization fulfill their mission.

During an early October ceremony, team president Matt Silverman handed out checks to the following community organizations that received All-Star Grants: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, which received a $25,000 grant, while Girls Inc. and Devereux Kids each received grants of $60,000.

A summer reading program called "Reading with the Rays" enjoyed its second successful summer in 2009.

"That was a very successful program," Murchland said. "The mission for that was to encourage kids to read over the summer and also to encourage them to use their local libraries."

The foundation also expanded some scholarship programs in 2009. It has established a scholarship program with Academy Prep, which has campuses in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla. It also has a Monte Irvin Scholarship, and it's created a "Teaming Up with the Environment" scholarship in which it is providing funds for environmental education.

A new initiative for the club is planned for early December when the Rays, Tampa Metropolitan YMCA and organizers of KaBoom! will combine to build a new playground on Dec. 4 at YMCA Camp Cristina located in Riverview, Fla.

Rays personnel already had taken part in a "Design Day" that allowed the youngsters at Camp Cristina to put crayon to paper to draw their dream playgrounds, which ultimately will come to fruition. Elements from the children's drawings will be incorporated into the final design for the new community playground to be built at the YMCA. "Design Day" also facilitated the first meeting of the playground committee that has worked to prepare for the construction of the new playground.

Rays employees get a paid day off once a month to do community service. More than 200 Rays employees will use their December day to volunteer and help build the new playground along with YMCA volunteers, all under the supervision of KaBoom! By the end of the day on Dec. 4, all of the structures for the new playground will be complete.

Manager Joe Maddon will once again open up to the community with his annual "Thanksmas" at four Salvation Army sites in Bradenton, Fla., St. Petersburg and Tampa. During those events, Maddon supervises the cooking, and he gets a lot of help from Rays staff, current and former players, coaches, broadcasters and their families to do the serving.

"He cooks the family meatball-and-sausage recipe," Murchland said. "He does all the shopping for that. He brings in people to help him do all of the cooking, which they do at Tropicana Field."

Murchland called the year "very successful."

"Our fundraising through the foundation was successful," Murchland said. "We were able to strengthen some programs that we had done before, such as 'Reading with the Rays.' And we added two new counties to that program. We continued our community fund and our All-Star Grant program, and we were able to continue with our giving levels there."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.