A+C Annual Fundraiser Brings Community Together to Help Others

Athletes and Causes Hosts is fourth Annual Fundraising Event in Tampa 

From the time you arrived at Athletes & Causes’ Fourth Annual Fundraising Event at the Tampa Museum of Art on Friday, it was clear this wasn’t your average cocktail reception.

As you made your way through the entrance to the event, it felt like a red carpet. You were greeted by a photographer who was taking guest’s pictures in front of two Lamborghini’s, with an Athletes & Causes banner backdrop. If you were lucky, the Malektronic Spaceman — best known as the astronaut in the front row of the crowd at Tampa Bay Lightning home games — joined your party for another photo op.

But even as unique as the greeting to the event was, it paled in comparison to what brought people there in the first place — a shared passion for coming together to help others.

Athletes, leaders and other members of the Tampa Bay community gathered for the fourth straight year for Athletes & Causes’ most important fundraising event — one that helps raise money for local foundations to use towards their charitable endeavors. This year’s event benefitted the Ryan Callahan Foundation, Lance C. McCullers Jr. Foundation, Sonya Bryson’s Voices of Hope, Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay and the Now Up Foundation

The event has a meaningful impact on each of its attendees, including emcee Charley Belcher, from Fox 13’s Good Day Tampa Bay.

“It’s fantastic,” Belcher said about the evening. “This is our fourth year and I have been lucky to be here for all four years. It’s great to see it grow (and) it’s great to see more athletes here every year and really great to see more of the community here every year supporting the cause.”

Athletes & Causes was established in 2014 by Founder & Chairman/CEO, Rob Canton, as a 501(c)(3) public charity, with the mission of supporting the philanthropic efforts of athletes, artists and influencers that protect, educate, mentor and instill hope. Through the foundation, Canton and his team have helped local athletes and celebrities understand their own philanthropic efforts and assisted them to positively impact the lives of others.

The philanthropic efforts of the foundations at this year’s event benefitted all walks of life, adding another layer to what made it such a meaningful evening for all involved.

The Ryan Callahan Foundation (RCF) was established to assist pediatric cancer patients and their families, while Sonya Bryson’s Voices of Hope was set up by the retired U.S. Army Technical Sergeant to lend a helping hand to those in the community battling Multiple Sclerosis — a disease she was diagnosed with in September 2015.

McCullers, Jr. began his foundation to help rescue animals and unite them with families in Houston, Texas where he is a pitcher for Major League Baseball’s Astros and in the Tampa Bay community where he grew up. The Now Up Foundation was the idea of former Major League Baseball players Matt LaPorta and Lance Carter to assist former professional baseball players with the successful transition into the job market and Big Brothers Big Sisters provides valuable mentorship opportunities to children who need a beacon of stability and positivity in their lives.

“I love the way it (the event) is setup and that we’re supporting and celebrating the athletes who are supporting and celebrating the community — whether it’s pets or kids with cancer or MS patients — I just love the fact that I feel like we are doing so much good in one effort,” Belcher said.

The Tampa Museum of Art, situated along the Hillsborough River, provided the perfect backdrop for what had been dubbed as an ‘intimate night with the stars’ leading up to the event, and it didn’t disappoint. Even the weather held up, making for a picturesque sunset across the river on the University of Tampa.

“I think it’s awesome,” Bryson said about the evening. “There are so many philanthropic people here in Tampa and I think that giving is at the heart of this city.”

For Bryson, who attended the event with her husband and one of her daughters, she’s looking forward to using the funds raised from the event and the community’s support to help those suffering from MS who might not be as lucky as she is — whether it be something as simple as helping to pay for a patient’s medications or covering a utility bill for someone who can’t afford it because of their physical condition, as well as awareness and wellness-related efforts.

“I am blessed to have a family and other people who care about me as far as my situation is concerned with MS but not everyone has a family,” Bryson said. “So these people coming together (for this event), they’re coming together for a greater purpose — to help that one person who doesn’t have children or doesn’t have a father or a mother here to help take care of them.”

Attendees enjoyed food and cocktails while socializing with one another and having the opportunity to speak with many of the athletes in attendance. DJ Fresh provided the musical backdrop for the evening. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Michael Clayton and Martin Grammatica, and current Tampa Bay Lightning players Andrei Vasilevskiy, Vladislav Namestnikov and J.T. Brown were just some of the athletes in the crowd. Ryan Callahan was unable to attend the event after undergoing a hip procedure days earlier, but his wife, Kyla, spoke to the crowd about her husband’s wishes to be there and thanked everyone on behalf of their family for being a part of such a special evening.

Inside the museum, attendees had the opportunity to bid on some of the many one-of-a-kind items offered through the silent auction. Among these were vacation experiences, autographed custom guitars, signed jerseys, vacation packages and a Taylor Swift gift set that included a signed football and a jersey worn by Taylor Swift during her Houston concert as part of the Super Bowl LI festivities.

The event had a particularly special meaning to McCullers, Jr. who has many ties to the Tampa Bay area, despite currently living in Houston with his wife, Kara, and their two dogs. The McCullers have been doing charitable work at dog shelters in Houston since Lance arrived there in 2015 and established his foundation the following year. The success of the event will assist McCullers in his effort to help teach people about the benefits of adopting dogs and helping to find good homes for them.

“We are kind of in the education mode right now,” McCullers, Jr. said about the foundation’s current focus. “We’re trying to educate the people of Houston and Tampa on the importance of pet adoption and the importance of the fostering system.”

With foundation-specific events planned for later this year in both cities, McCullers, Jr. intends to use the funds raised in a very meaningful way.

“All of that money is going to go to trying to extend the lives of the dogs that are in the shelters,” he said. “Dogs only have a certain amount of time in shelters depending on the capacity the shelter has available for them. We want to raise money to expand shelters to give dogs a better chance to be adopted and be fostered out to have the life that they deserve.”

McCullers, Jr. calls the decision to adopt a black lab mix in October 2016 “the best decision and the best thing that’s probably ever happened” to he and his wife — proof that larger dogs in shelters, who are often overlooked for smaller dogs who may be considered easier to take care of, make a truly meaningful difference in the lives of other people when they have the opportunity to join a loving family.

There were many different causes being supported by the evening’s events, and while these vary from charity to charity, there is one common theme behind them all — improving the lives of others. It’s what made the evening unlike any other and a memorable one for its guests.

“Knowing the fact that we are all here having a good time tonight means that someone might have a better day tomorrow that is really what it’s all about,” Belcher said, when asked about what his favorite aspect was of the evening.

“Maybe it’s going to make a difference in a cancer patient’s family, maybe it’s going to make a difference in an MS patient, maybe we’’ll get a dog adopted … from the tiniest of causes to the greatest of causes, maybe we will make a little difference, and if everybody would do that, than the world would be a better place.”

Athletes & Causes’ Fourth Annual Fundraising Event has come and gone, but the impact of that special evening will continue to be felt throughout the Tampa Bay community as people come together to support these causes.

Written By: Steven Diossi