Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth was nearly perfect last season, hitting 26 of his 28 field goal attempts for a franchise-record 92.9% success rate. That performance prompted the Buccaneers to place the franchise tag on their kicker earlier this week, but Barth's employers weren't the only ones thrilled by his accuracy in 2011.
Three special groups of Buccaneer fans gathered at team headquarters on Tuesday to recognize Barth for his impact on and off the field and to receive the fruits of his labors through the "Kicking for Kids" program. Representatives from program sponsor Raymond James Financial joined the Buccaneers in presenting checks totaling $26,000 to.
As part of the "Kicking for Kids" program, Raymond James Financial pledged to donate $1,000 toward designated children's hospitals for each field goal made by the Buccaneers during the 2011 season. Thanks to Barth's almost flawless work, this long-running program had one of its most impactful years ever. Since its inception in 2000, the initiative has led to the donation of almost a quarter of a million dollars to children's hospitals across the country.
"We couldn't be more thrilled to have donated in the aggregate of a little more than $200,000 in the last 11 years to local community hospitals," said Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates. "When you think about the importance of giving back to the community, which is just as important to the Buccaneers as it is to the Raymond James family, we are happy to have this kind of impact in the community."
The gifts provided by the Kicking for Kids program can help the participating hospitals in countless ways, but perhaps most importantly they are used to simply make the young patients feel more comfortable during their stay.
Kimberly Guy, chief operating officer at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, said the generosity shown by Raymond James and the Buccaneers has allowed the hospital to provide extra programming that helps make their patients feel more at home while they are at St. Joseph's.
"This money can help our organization in so many ways," Guy said. "Giving them (the children) an opportunity to play while they are in the hospital is one of the most important things.
"We want to be able to recognize birthdays, special occasions and if you have completed a treatment, so sometimes we provide them certain gifts, things that can help them distract them from their regular day so they have an opportunity to play and be as much like kids as they can."
An excited group of children and their parents got a chance to accompany hospital personnel on the trip to One Buccaneer Place Tuesday. The visiting kids enjoyed snacks, a highlight video of Barth's 2011 field goals, a tour of the facility and a visit with team mascot Captain Fear. One 10-year-old patient named Jeremy who was representing All Children's Hospital got to pose with a really big check.
"If I could say it in one word: Awesome!," said Jeremy said with a big grin. "I'm doing this for a good reason."
Keeping children like Jeremy smiling is just one of the goals for Raymond James as they lend a helping hand to the local hospitals, with the hope that the future generations of children will benefit from a better tomorrow.
"As you look ahead in the years coming, Raymond James will be just as committed as we have always been to community involvement," Elwyn said. "The business of Raymond James as we view it is life well-planned for our clients, and it is just as important that it is life well-planned for the broader community at large."