Section 8 Chicago.
Ingrained as I seem to be with the Chicago Fire, I’ve found if you mention the group outside the Fire-centric world many of us live in, you’ll often be greeted with a puzzled look.
“Wait, I don’t get it… Like Section 8 housing?” is a common quote I’ve received from friends and family outside this sphere, with “No.” being the standard response.
Of course those inside the Fire sphere know Section 8 Chicago as the club’s Independent Supporters Association – a collection of groups that formed out of the old Barn Burners and Fire Ultras to become a resounding force of atmosphere at Fire games throughout the years. Their presence has been felt at Soldier Field to Cardinal Stadium, back to Soldier Field, here at Toyota Park and several away stadiums every year.
It is the group of guys (and ladies) that have aptly produced one of the most intimidating and colorful stadium environments in MLS from their spirited chants to the most animated tifo displays the soccer culture in our country has seen.
While the ISA is great at these things, they’ve also shown growth in an area they’re not as well known for: philanthropy.
Earlier today, Section 8 Chicago announced a donation of $10,325 to the Chicago Fire Foundation for the calendar year of 2010 – by far the highest amount the ISA has ever raised.
Registered as a 501(c)7 non-profit organization, the group’s charitable efforts are a large part of their mission every year, as evidenced by the increase in their annual donations to the Foundation since the club moved to Toyota Park in 2006.
“Our aim is to contribute as much back to our community as we can,” said Section 8 Chairman Tom Dunmore. “We have the opportunity to reach a lot of people through all the supporting activities that we do and need to make sure we give back to the community as well. Supporting the Chicago Fire Foundation has been a long-term priority for us with all the good work they do."
Dunmore explained that much of Section 8’s charitable mission is to give to organizations that have a connection to the Fire and soccer in general. As examples, the ISA has earmarked donations in the past to Nothing But Nets, an organization former Fire midfielder Diego Gutierrez has strong ties to and one that is dedicated to preventing the spread of malaria in Africa by providing bed nets to those on the continent in need.
More recently, the ISA has done work to benefit Urban Initiatives, an organization that runs health and education soccer programs through the Chicago Public Schools. The group’s Board of Directors features current Fire defender Dasan Robinson and former Fire defender Jim Curtin.
“We try to find things where we can contribute a lot of good and have a connection to the Fire and soccer so that we’re working to build a collective ethos. We want to show that we’re not just out there to drink beers and sing but to do something that will have long-term benefits in Chicagoland as well.”
Among the fundraising efforts the ISA has utilized over the years are the more traditional bake sales and selling of merchandise (particularly scarves), but don’t get them wrong, they’re not a bunch of Girl Scouts…
The group has also tailored their efforts around matches, utilizing tailgates, specifically the October 8 Anniversary Pig Roast, and most recently, a charity bartending event to raise money.
The story gets better here…
A less than orthodox but well-proven fundraiser, a recent charity bartending event went down just before Christmas when former ISA chairman Ben Burton (Below) got behind the bar at The Kinderook Tap in Oak Park.
Burton’s motives were simple, but I’ll explain them in greater detail here…
A 2009 change in Section 8’s bylaws has required the ISA to donate 5% of their annual gross revenue to charitable causes. Inside of that, the group earmarks amounts they want to go to certain groups when donating to the Foundation, and well, Ben tells the rest of the story better than I can.
“Our goal for 2010 was to hit $10,000 raised for charity,” said Burton. “We were just below that at the beginning of December and didn’t have more events planned. It was disappointing to me that we were coming up short of our goal and I wanted to do something to put us over the top.”
Burton hastily arranged for himself to spend six hours behind the bar at the Oak Park watering hole where he would donate 100% of his tips as well as The Kinderhook Tap agreeing to give 15% of the proceeds during his time serving drinks.
The event put Section 8 over the top, raising nearly $1000 on the day.
“It was put together on short notice as a holiday season, good-will type of event,” said Dunmore. “It snowballed from there and became something we had many people come and give generously to. Being able to do that on short notice, based off one man’s initiative shows what we can do as a group. The more people we get involved that have ideas and follow through like that, the more we can do as a community.”
The ISA’s donations to charitable causes have increased every year since 2006 and the 2010 gift is a marked increase of $3500 over the previous year’s donation.
According to Dunmore, Section 8 will look for ways to continue the growth in this area of their operation.
“We want to continue building on what we did in 2010 and increase our donation by reaching out even more around the stadium – getting more fans involved wherever they sit or stand at Toyota Park. We want them to donate at our events and to get them involved in everything we’re doing – many times these things have a charitable angle to them. We’re always looking for new ways to connect withm ore people and to help the club and Fire Foundation use the sport of soccer for good causes.”
Well done guys (and girls).
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.