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DENVER -- Following Hank Aaron's final Major League game at Milwaukee's County Stadium in 1976, then-Brewers owner Bud Selig asked the all-time home run king if he had any post-playing career dreams.
"I said, 'Mr. Selig, the most important thing that my wife and I would like to see is to someday see kids across this country be able to chase their dream,'" Aaron said. "And looking back on some of the things that I have accomplished in baseball, I know that if I had not had someone to help me chase my dream, then I would not have been able to play professional baseball."
Selig is now helping Aaron realize that dream, as Major League Baseball announced on Sunday before Game 4 of the World Series a partnership with the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation (HACDF) and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA).
"Hank and [wife] Billye have for many years demonstrated their commitment to helping the youth of our country make better lives for themselves," Selig said. "I commend them for their efforts, and I thank them. I know over the past years how devoted they have been to these causes, and I'm proud today that we're joining forces."
The HACDF will be funded entirely by contributions from MLB to the endowment fund. Funding will reach the full endowment level of $2.5 million in 2008.
The foundation will provide 44 grants every year to BGCA members across the country and on military bases who have shown talents in music, dance, art, science, literature or athletics.
"This new phase of Chasing the Dream will commence next year by supporting the dreams of 44 children each year, or annually, and it is our intention to have at least 44 in the program at any given time," Billye Aaron said. "Hence we come up with the name '44 Forever.' Now, you remember that because forever means forever, in perpetuity."
The recipients will receive a $2,500 grant that can be renewed each year until the recipient graduates from high school.
"Initially, we had put a few of our dollars in to get it started, but of course it takes a lot of money if you're going to do anything substantive to help youngsters," Billye said. "So we had the good fortune to have at that birthday celebration Commissioner Bud Selig, of course. It was led by Tom Johnson, who is the former CEO of CNN, and we were fortunate to have the good graces of President Bill Clinton, who came and helped us launch that program."
The HACDF will be administered by the BCGA and HACDF endowment committee. The committee will include representatives from the HACDF board, BGCA and Major League Baseball. Program information, including the application and requalifying process, will be available beginning on Monday in select Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide.
"These awards will inspire and empower our youth," said Roxanne Spillett, the president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "And, perhaps, they may nurture a young scientific mind like Albert Einstein's, or the musical ability of a Beethoven, the insightful speech of a Maya Angelou, or even the sure hands and mighty swing of a future Hank Aaron."
The HACDF was started by Aaron and his wife in 1994, and in the last 10 years, HACDF has given more than 755 grants to deserving youth.
HACDF will continue to function as a foundation supplying grants to other grant recipients who are separate from The Major League Baseball Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Program. This includes programs now in existence in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Mobile, Ala., and Milwaukee.