Lunch with the Editor: Miami Sports Execs Discuss Team Philanthropy

The lunch at Toscana Divino included the HEAT's Steve Stowe, Inter Miami CF's Chris Allan, Celebrity Soccer Match's Julianna Strout, the Miami Dolphins' Jason Jenkins and SocialMiami editor Brett Graff PHOTOS BY AIXA HOLT

A special needs teacher in Indiana took to the internet in seeking advice on getting through to a student; the kid was a Dolphins fan and that’s all she knew. Well, it’s all the team’s community affairs execs needed to know. They promptly invited the boy to the Dolphins game against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, where he received his own jersey and visited the locker room, recalls Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs.

Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs for the Miami Dolphins

“That sort of thing changes a kid’s life,” says Jenkins. “That’s what sports can do. We have no limits in terms of the impact we can make.”

The hyper-competitive spirit among Miami sports teams, it should be noted, is reserved for opposing teams. Because when it comes to boosting people here and away, Miami leagues —the NFL, NBA, MLB and MLS — are together rooting for entire communities. At SocialMiami’s Lunch with the Editor series taking place at Toscana Divino in Mary Brickell Village, Chris Allan from Inter Miami CF, Steve Stowe of the Miami HEAT Charitable Fund and Jason Jenkins from the Miami Dolphins came together to discuss the role of sports and philanthropy. At the moment, the attendees are preparing to work together on the Celebrity Soccer Match supporting Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

North Bay Village commissioner Julianna Strout founded the Celebrity Soccer Match

Founded by Julianna Strout, a North Bay Village Commissioner with a background in finance and advocating for women and victims of sexual abuse, the soccer match is going to be held on November 23. In its second year and in partnership with Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, there are seven-on-seven matches with celebrities, athletes, models and buddies; meet and greets; children’s clinics; soccer training classes, all dedicated to raising awareness for the Best Buddies program, which finds creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We want to bring forth inclusion and equality and social responsibility through sports,” says Strout, who while attending UMASS Dartmouth represented Rhode Island in the Miss America Pageant. “Often parents working full time don’t have opportunity to engage with children. And when a sports team provides mentorship, kids fall in love with sports. There’s a lot of opportunity through sports, there’s sense of community, and kids stay busy. As a commissioner, we can’t always provide an infrastructure for youth, but the Heat and the Dolphins, the Marlins and the Panthers and the Inter Miami CF can provide those opportunities.”

Steve Stowe has headed the Miami HEAT Charitable Foundation for over 20 years

Miami teams say they’re continuously working toward contributing to the community and the discussion at lunch centered around those efforts. Just 24 hours earlier, for example, the Miami HEAT had finished up its radiothon and Dribble Drive benefiting Miami Cancer Institute. Even though the team had the night before played the Detroit Pistons, the players and their coach Erik Spoelstra arrived at 5:45 a.m. the next morning with enthusiasm for raising the much-needed funds, says Stowe.

“The guys are tired but they’ll still participate on an off day,” says Stowe, who has headed the Miami HEAT Charitable Foundation for more than 20 years. “When you sign the contract to play on the team, you know the culture is not only being the most disliked, hardest working and best-positioned team in NBA but rather, our culture embodies what we do off court. And that’s to raise as much money to help our local beneficiaries. Everyone at the HEAT understands that culture. Everyone. It comes from the top, from Micky and Madeleine Arison, from Pat and Chris Riley and also Spoelstra and and it’s not just in season but for twelve months of the year.”

Chris Allan is vice president of community relations for Inter Miami CF

As Inter Miami CF launches as MLS’ 25th Club set to play in March, the team foundation and even construction of its two stadiums – including one Miami Freedom Park – has a three-part focus: access and inclusion, health and wellness, and environmental stability, says the team’s Allan, who arrived from London nine years ago and has since worked directly with Best Buddies founder Anthony Shriver, headed University of Miami fundraising efforts and sat on the board of the Dolphins Cancer Challenge. As a few examples, the team, he says, recently sent 50 kids to Dwyane Wade’s soccer camp, while focusing on minimizing single use products, and reducing Florida’s notoriously high obesity rate.

“We want to be out there with impact,” says Allan, who points to team owner David Beckham – who among other endeavors, provides wheelchairs to children in need, fights Malaria and works to assist injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “What he achieved on the field is overshadowed by what he achieved off the field. If every professional athlete had the commitment he does, world would be a better place.”

SocialMiami editor Brett Graff had lunch with major league sports teams to discuss their philanthropic roles in Miami

Meanwhile, the Dolphins – which in addition to raising 32 million for cancer research with the DCC, is also determined to be inclusive, says Jenkins, who quotes team owner Steve Ross’ sentiment, saying the team operates as a steward of public trust in the community. As such, it heralds FOOTBALL UNITES, a diversity and inclusion initiative and participates in RISE, which works to eliminate discrimination. The Dolphins also has a goal of inviting every single school to visit its training facility, for many reasons including the introduction of sports as a career path for people other than players, but also occupations such as philanthropists, engineers, graphic designers.

“Those images and those times connect people,” says Jenkins, who worked for the San Francisco 49ers and also served as the commencement speaker last year at Texas Tech, where he got his degree in broadcast journalism. “We want to bring that to the community, and all come together. For all of us, each of the teams, we wake up every day to make a change.”

READ HERE ABOUT ITALIAN SPECIALTIES SERVED AT TOSCANA DIVINO