In 1998, as a 20-year-old rookie pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, Kerry Wood became an instant baseball sensation when he tied a Major League record by hurling 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game and was named National League Rookie of the Year. Wood matured into a two-time All Star and helped lead the Cubs to the National League Championship Series in 2003.
But with the glory came great struggle. Wood was dogged by injuries throughout his career. He missed an entire season after undergoing elbow surgery, and was placed on the disabled list a total of 14 times. For 10 years, the Cubs and the fans of Chicago stood by him as he battled back from hardship.
Today, Wood and his wife, Sarah, are working through the Wood Family Foundation to give back to the city that has meant so much to them and their children.
Founded in 2011, the foundation has already funded the construction of a playroom for children receiving cancer treatment at the newly built Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital (formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital). The project is near and dear to the couple. Sarah was a volunteer at Children’s Memorial when she first began dating Kerry more than 10 years ago. In the years since, the Woods have paid countless visits to children being treated there.
The broader mission of the foundation is general advocacy for the children of Chicago. The Woods fund both immediate and long-term relief projects for underprivileged kids, and work to raise awareness throughout the community of children’s needs.
The Wood Family Foundation has a particularly close relationship with the Chicago Public Schools, and has targeted four particularly needy neighborhoods within the school district for its major programs. The foundation sponsors an annual back-to-school drive to collect supplies and clothing for needy students, and a winter toy and coat drive called Warm Wishes that serves 500 kids each year. In addition to providing direct funding for these programs, the foundation has successfully rallied help from fan donors and partner organizations such as JPMorgan Chase. Kerry and Sarah maintain regular contact with school principals within the target neighborhoods so that the foundation can move quickly to mobilize individual donors and partners as specific needs arise.
The foundation’s newest project is a program that provides a full scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago to a graduating high school senior from one of the group’s four target neighborhoods. The foundation hopes that within five years, the program will expand to provide 10 annual scholarships.
Kerry stresses that scholarships go beyond merely “helping” kids because they can break cycles of poverty.
“A range of programs can touch a child’s life for a day, for a week, and make a difference,” says Kerry. “Sarah and I felt that with a scholarship, a true ripple effect can be felt. Our goal is to bring college opportunity to our neighborhoods. A college education can change the life of a child, their family’s life, and begin to spread through their community. Our first scholar, Gaby Santoyo, is from Lawndale, one of our target neighborhoods. She is a freshman this year at UIC. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes.”
The Wood Family Foundation also sponsors an annual week-long summer baseball clinic for 300 kids, who learn not only baseball fundamentals but the importance of team work and good sportsmanship. According to Sarah, who is executive director of the foundation, the kids who participate “start by seeing Kerry as a Cubs pitcher, but by the end of the week, they see him as a role model, a mentor, and a friend.”
Sarah, who says she learned the importance of community service from her mother, now considers the Wood Family Foundation her “life’s work.”
“It’s fantastic,” she says. “We have always taught our children that just as dad was supported by Chicago through his career, it is our obligation to do the same. The act of service and giving back to our community is something we all believe in. It has helped us to connect with our community and each of our neighborhoods. And we are receiving so much love from those we are serving.”