as told to meg mathis | January 15, 2015 | People
With the Wood Family Foundation's annual Woody's Winter Warm-Up event, former Chicago Cubs star pitcher Kerry Wood steps up to the plate to better the lives of the city's children.
After retiring from the Cubs, Wood is committed to helping kids throughout Chicago.
“My wife and I started doing charity work at the hospital visiting kids when we were dating. When I came back for my second run with the Cubs, we knew we were going to stay in Chicago after I was done playing, and that’s when we realized it was time to launch a foundation and do something more permanent. Having our own kids, seeing kids in the hospital, doing baseball clinics, we realized it was going to [focus on helping] the children of Chicago. I started the Wood Family Foundation before I retired [in 2012], but I realized that the 30 minutes I was able to give could be monumental for people. And not because it’s ‘me’—a lot of the kids don’t know that I play baseball and what I’ve done, which is even better. It’s more rewarding that [I’m] just a familiar face. Having these kids run up and give you a high five or hug and say, ‘Good to see you!’ [is] what it’s all about. It’s made me a better person.
“[Woody’s Winter Warm-Up] is really about timing: Everyone’s excited for the Cubs season to start right around the corner—everyone’s in town for the Cubs convention, so I get players out—and it’s a good time, [with] a musical act and great auction items. We get all the players and celebrities behind the bar and compete for tips, so it’s fun. Last year, we raised over [$100,000] to help the foundation get programs off the ground. I love having the event at Harry’s, and the more we can talk about the foundation, the more people we have to volunteer and help.
“Today is the opening day of our mentor program at Lawndale Elementary Community Academy, [which has] been more than a year in the making. We have 20 fourth graders; they have given the foundation two rooms. The school did not have a library, so we got a library built and put books in it, and the other room they’ve allocated for us is now a resource room, where we have desktops and tablets. We’ve put together a curriculum and activities we’ll be doing every Tuesday throughout the school year. The last Tuesday of every month, we bring in the guardians. One of the coolest things about the program is having that dinner and letting the kids get up and tell all the parents what they’ve been learning, then we eat dinner together. We have dinner at my house every night as a family; a lot of people don’t, so that’s a big thing—to sit down together and take an hour to listen to the kids.
Wood unveils the resource room to students at Lawndale Elementary Community Academy.
“We all see the news about Lawndale and Englewood, [but] it’s not as bad as the news makes it: There’s a good sense of community in these neighborhoods, and if we can get the trust of the families, the students, the principals, and the teachers, we want nothing out of it other than their help. At Lawndale Elementary Community Academy, we did a barbecue to kick off the school year—we blocked off the streets and had bouncy houses, carnival games, and a two-day baseball clinic. I was talking to Principal Willette—he had a big smile on his face and was like, ‘Man, I’m seeing 30 moms and dads here that I’ve called 100 times, and I couldn’t get them to call me back.’ We had people coming out of their houses taking pictures of us in the park, and we find out later they were taking pictures because they hadn’t seen kids in that park in 25 years. They were coming out of their houses because they heard laughter. Being in the city, having a good time, and seeing hundreds of kids out—hopefully they see each other and say, ‘We’re going to stay engaged.’ Going into the event, the principal was like, ‘I’m not sure how many people are going to show. It’s hard to get [to the] parents, and the kids can’t come if the parents don’t come.’ We had hundreds of people; the principal was almost in tears.
“Kids are kids, but when it comes down to it, they’re really gentle. Unfortunately, a lot of them have grown up too soon in some of these neighborhoods, but deep down, I love the innocence of the children. Some of them just want to touch my wife’s hair. They say, ‘We’ve never touched hair like this.’ Honestly, you feel bad when the day ends and you have to go home. Hopefully we start to build relationships throughout the neighborhood and really have an impact. Hopefully the stories will never stop.” Woody’s Winter Warm-Up, January 16, 8 pm. Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch, Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., 7th Fl., 312-924-9234
photography by kenny kim photography (boy with bat; wood with kids); Collin pierson photography (high five); kenny kim photography
January 22, 2019
January 22, 2019