The Rays Baseball Foundation supports youth and education programs that make a measurable difference in the Tampa Bay region. The Foundation has a special interest in serving at-risk populations throughout Tampa Bay. The Foundation strives to improve the quality of education, literacy and life skills training provided to youth in these areas by creating and supporting programming that meets their most critical needs.
The Rays have teamed up with local YMCA's, the United Way Suncoast, the Juvenile Welfare Board and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County to remind children and families to be water smart from the start. The program provides access to life-saving water safety programs to both children and their parents through their local YMCA's in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. For more information about the program visit: www.ymcatampabay.org
Since 2006, the Rays Baseball Foundation has teamed up with the Tampa Bay Times Newspaper in Education for the summer reading program Reading with the Rays-Read Your Way to the Ballpark. Reading with the Rays encourages kids to avoid summer reading loss by reading 24 hours over the summer months. More than 22,000 bay area students participate over the summer from nine surrounding counties. Participating libraries track their progress and award prizes for reaching certain goals, including free tickets to a Rays game. Reading with the Rays spokesman Evan Longoria visits local libraries throughout the summer to speak to the kids about the importance of reading. The program is made possible through a partnership with Evan Longoria, the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation and public library systems in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Citrus, Polk, Pasco, Sarasota, Charlotte and Hernando counties. For more information visit: www.raysbaseball.com/reading.
In 2009, the tragic shooting death of 8-year old Paris Whitehead in South St. Petersburg, an underserved area located next to Tropicana Field, sent ripples through the Tampa Bay community. The Rays Baseball Foundation, along with concerned citizens of the neighborhood, including Rays employees, launched the South St. Petersburg Neighborhood Initiative to be agents of change in a community in desperate need for assistance.
To address the issue of student tardiness and absenteeism at Campbell Park Elementary School, the Rays Baseball Foundation and the United Way Suncoast partnered with Jabil and All Children's Hospital to create the first Walking School Bus in South St. Petersburg, a program that empowers school and community volunteers to play an active role in getting students to school safely. Routes were assigned in areas with high populations of elementary students who live within two miles of the school and are not eligible to use the school bus. Parent volunteers play a pivotal role in the success of the walking school bus, by providing consistent supervision of their routes. Another component of the program focuses on meeting parents' basic needs and establishing trust in the school system. The goal of the parenting program is to empower parents and connect them with resources available to help them maintain financial stability to ensure success for the family, including students attending Campbell Park Elementary, for the sustainable future. Families learn how to save money and receive information on second chance banking. Families are given referrals to local food banks and were provided information on childcare scholarship programs, VPK programs, summer childcare programs, healthcare, local thrift stores, employment resources, bus passes, and housing resources. Families who attend budgeting classes are also eligible for Campbell Park Swimming Scholarships.
In partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, the Rays front office provides site-based mentors to students in grades K-5 at nearby Campbell Park Elementary each year. Rays mentors meet with their "littles" once a week throughout the school-year providing homework help, playtime and group activities including a Rays game.
Since 2011, the Rays Baseball Foundation has partnered with the Poynter Institute to support the Write Field Program. The program was created in response to the staggering drop-out rates among male students in the South St. Petersburg area. The program hosts 30 middle school students for weekend seminars that discuss topics related to the journalism field. The Rays and Rays Baseball Foundation provide funding and support by offering experts in the sports industry to participate in workshops with the students throughout the nine month program.
In 2010, James and Ryane Shields, along with the Tampa Bay Rays, donated a suite to start a special club for foster kids called the Big Game James Club. In 2013, the Big Game James Club became the Home Run Club. Even though founders James and Ryane Shields are no longer members of the Tampa Bay Rays, their legacy of advocating for children in foster care lives on. The club continues to offer a sense of stability and belonging to hundreds of foster children and adoptive families throughout Tampa Bay. Each season, with the help of Eckerd and the Heart Gallery, over 100 foster children become club members and attend a series of home games in the suite. When the suite isn't being used for club kids, Eckerd, Guardian Ad Litem, Family Resources, Ready for Life and the Heart Gallery use the suite for special adoption events. The stadium also plays host to a permanent Heart Gallery exhibit, displaying professional portraits and personal biographies of children waiting to be adopted. The Home Run Club and Heart Gallery events hosted by the Rays have resulted in numerous adoptions for local foster children.