Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Jake Wilkoff | Union League Boys and Girls Club (ULBGC)
Jake Wilkoff isn’t hesitant to walk into Chicago’s most troubled neighborhoods in order to help those vulnerable kids get a fair chance.
But he does carry a big stick, a lot them in fact.
As a volunteer with the Union League Boys and Girls Club (ULBGC) working in conjunction with OWLS (Outreach with Lacrosse and Schools), Jake and others are equipped with lacrosse sticks while introducing Chicago’s at-risk youth to a sport invented by Native Americans as early as the 12th century.
The results are beyond encouraging. “They have taken to it like fish to water,” says a smiling Jake, who grew up playing lacrosse and hockey in Chagrin Falls, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. “It’s a fast-paced game of creativity that a kid of any size can play. That is a big reason why the kids are gravitating to it and succeeding.”
Consider the story of Marcos Lucio who had never seen a lacrosse stick. Marcos started with the OWLS “Learn to Play” program and began playing competitively on the ULBGC Club One team as an eighth grader in 2018. He scored a goal in his first game, which happened to be against the Lane Tech Middle School team. He is now a student at Lane Tech College Prep and will be playing on the lacrosse team this spring. After his football practices this fall, he returned to the “Learn to Play” program this fall to help the younger kids learn the game of lacrosse.
OWLS is continuing to support Marcos by covering all his Lane Tech lacrosse player fees and buying his lacrosse equipment and apparel at Lane Tech. He will also have access to the program’s private academic tutors. This is all made possible because of the relationship between the ULBGC and OWLS Lacrosse which Jake initiated and volunteers for year- round.
Two more ULBGC branches, in Humboldt Park and Englewood, communities that have seen more than their share of hardship, will feature lacrosse for the first time next spring.
“Whether it’s teaching them lacrosse, coaching a basketball or hockey team, or even playing Santa, Jake takes charge of the type of experience members have and makes trying new things exciting,” says Mary Ann Mahon Huels, President and CEO of the ULBGC.
Jake’s passion is no more evident than at the holidays. Having Santa at your party is standard. Playing board games with Santa is not. It’s an extra touch, courtesy of Jake, who loves nothing better than leading the countdown to the simultaneous opening of the presents for all at the ULBGC party.
Even when Jake is “playing,” he’s working on behalf of the kids. As President and Founder of the 447-member Chi-town Dog Pound, Chicago’s own Cleveland Browns Backers Fan Club, he has led the group’s fundraising efforts to benefit the ULBGC holiday party for the past five years. That figure was nearly $4,500 alone in 2018. All of its helps ensure every kid has a wrapped present to open.
“Jake is one of our most admired volunteers because he cares so much for the children & teens at ULBGC,” says Mary Ann. ‘He takes great measures to ensure that our youth are exposed to all sorts of activities. If there’s an opportunity to do more, Jake is right there, ready to step in and step up.
Indeed, between serving meals at the clubs, mentoring youth, and raising funds for Christmas gifts, he sets the standard for everyone else looking to get involved. “I believe in the mission that every kid deserves a safe place to go to help them reach their full potential,” he says.
In addition to thoroughly enjoying the planned activities, Jake also likes just showing up. “I try to be present as much as I can so that the kids see a friendly, familiar face that they are comfortable around,” he explains.
For Jake, his love for the ULBGC started with his desire to honor a family tradition. It is his wife, Margaret’s family that has had close ties to the ULBGC for many years. Margaret herself is President of the ULBGC Associate Board, a current Trustee and represents the fourth generation of Trustees in her family.
When they are not focused on ways to help the ULBGC, the couple operates a food tour company taking in some of Chicago’s outstanding culinary posts.
And then there’s Jake’s love of hockey, which he also played along with lacrosse at Calvin College, where he and Margaret met.
Jake coaches ice hockey to 9 and 10 year-olds and adult “Learn to Play Hockey” at the Chicago Blackhawks practice facility. That relationship led the NHL team to donate equipment to the ULBGC summer floor hockey program
coached by who else? Jake.
Jake and Margaret and the ULBGC Associate Board also put on a skating party for ULBGC teens each year. Their efforts ensure the youngsters come away with gloves and hats, hot chocolate and snacks.
“This is a good fit for me,” adds Jake who uses his creative spirit to find ways to get kids engaged.
SeaPerch is one of those ways. It’s an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The SeaPerch Program provides students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science, and mathematics. Naturally, Jake is involved even serving as emcee for ULBGC competitions.
“As a kid I was impacted by the coaches I had,” says Jake. “With the ULBGC, we’re talking about lives, healthy happy lives and making sure these kids have opportunities open to them that they otherwise might not have. I’m so happy
to contribute to these efforts.”
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation