Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club Grand Opening
On Thursday morning, September 22, 2011, an extraordinary, exhilarating, and euphoric event took place in Nicetown, in North Philadelphia.
Shane Victorino stood at the podium, and began to shed tears in the midst of his remarks. And he wasn’t the only one. There wasn’t a dry eye among the guests, either, once they saw Shane’s display of emotion.
Shane and his wife, Melissa, have donated $1 million, to completely renovate and furnish the Nicetown Boys & Girls Club, a 106-year-old facility in desperate need of repair, in a gritty neighborhood.
Their decision to make such a generous gift, certainly reflects their commitment to the Club and its mission. But Shane’s tears made it very clear that his commitment to the project, runs vastly deeper than the money. Namely, that his commitment to it, comes from the bottom of his heart. It was a moment of astonishing authenticity.
And here is an account of the events of that morning…
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Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club Opening - 9/22/11
The skies were initially gray, as guests arrived. There were folding chairs set up directly in front of the Nicetown Boys & Girls Club, with a dais up front. Up on the top of the building, a narrow black veil covered the new name, the Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club. Four mannequins, each dressed in a different Phillies jersey, served as a backdrop.
Shane and Melissa, along with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mike and Joycelyn Victorino, sat on one side of the stage, with ESPN’s legendary icon Chris Berman, the master of ceremonies. Berman, one of the most popular figures in sports broadcasting, has vacationed in Shane’s native Maui, for the last 30 years. In 2003, he bought property there, and plans to retire there at the end of his full-time duties at ESPN. (He jokes that he is “the mayor of Maui”, due to how much time he spends there.)
Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and the skies had turned sunny, by the time the program started. Berman welcomed the guests and gave some opening remarks, before introducing the other dignitaries, sitting on the other side of the dais.
The dignitaries were Phillies club president David Montgomery;
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis, who represented Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, who had a previous commitment;
a minister who gave the invocation;
Tim Brosnan, MLB Executive VP, Business;
John Gonzalez Jr., the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia Youth of the Year;
Rick Wegryn, Past Chair of the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia.
Berman, whose popularity among viewers stems from his deft mixing of highlights with humor, was very entertaining and had great material. Among his many famous catchphrases is “back-back-back” – and he accurately noted that “Shane and Melissa have given back-back-back - to this community.”
Then Shane took the podium. Among his remarks were:
“I am incredibly grateful to the city of Philadelphia for embracing my family and me throughout our years here and we wanted to find a way to give back… While our Foundation’s $900,000 pledge was very ambitious, Melissa and I strongly believe updating this club is a necessary investment in the neighborhood that will provide children with unbelievable opportunities that they desperately need.”
Shane spoke from the heart; his emotions came to the forefront, as evidenced by his tears, and he decided not to follow his prepared speech.
His parents walked over to the podium to embrace him. And last, but certainly not least, the Phillie Phanatic clambered up on stage to hug Shane. He began worshiping at Shane’s feet, in recognition of his generosity. And then, in a great comic gesture, the Phanatic brushed tears away from his own eyes!
Shane and Melissa then walked over to the corner of the building, where they pulled the cord to remove the black cloth, and officially unveil its new name – the Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club – to great applause from the guests.
There was a lei tied to the front entrance. Mr. Mike Victorino explained the symbolic significance of the lei, indicating its connection with Hawaiian royalty. Then Shane and Melissa untied the lei, officially opening the building.
The guests were now invited to tour the new, 21st-century, Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club. There was a ballpark-themed reception for the guests – hot dogs, pretzels, cookies, TastyKakes, etc.
After touring the Club, the amenities are astounding. It’s a veritable paradise for youths between the ages of 6 and 19, whom the Club’s mission serves. Over 300 children a day will participate in the programs and services, taking place in a 16,000-square-foot facility. Among other things, there is a full basketball court, teen center, media-technology center, kitchen, study lounges, offices, and game room. These features are of enormous importance to Nicetown, where nearly half of the families live under the poverty line, and more than 60% are single-parent households.
There are flat-screen TVs, Internet portals, bookshelves with tons of board games, air hockey tables, pool tables, plush furniture, football and baseball beanbag chairs. Mr. Mike Victorino was trying his luck at the air hockey tables, with some of the children.
“We are so grateful to everyone who has teamed with our Foundation to provide opportunities for children in need. We are honored to be able to make a difference in the lives of children who are this city’s future.”
The new facility really has to be seen, to be believed. There is a room dedicated to each of Philadelphia’s four professional sports teams, and themed accordingly with their colors and logos. (Naturally, my favorite is the Phillies room.) The 76ers Room includes a full basketball court - red, of course. It was also the home of the magnificent cake, commissioned to celebrate the event.
The cake was an exact replica of the Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club. Every detail had been painstakingly replicated. Created by Potito’s Italian American Pastries, the baker said that it took 38 hours to create. It included its brick exterior, arched Georgian windows, the lei across the entrance, and the new name across the top. Perched atop the cake was a Gold Glove - Shane’s three consecutive Gold Glove awards from 2008-2010, as the top center fielder in the National League. (Hopefully, he’ll make it four in a row, this year!) Slices had been prepared for the guests, and it tasted as good as it looked.
And so, the day was a fitting culmination, for the 18 months of efforts by the Shane Victorino Foundation, to provide a safe haven and respite for the youth of Nicetown. It was a day that demonstrated the commitment of the Victorinos to give back to what Shane describes as “my adopted home city” – and as Berman put it, “5,000 miles from where he grew up”. Philadelphia has become home for him. And Thursday was yet another reason, why Philadelphians have embraced him as one of their own.
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