If you ask people around Berlin what the Ryan T. Lee Foundation does, many would likely point to the charity golf tournament it hosts at Timberlin which is followed by dinner at the Aqua Turf. But the golf tournament is only one of the foundation’s annual fundraising efforts.
Dedicated to honoring the enduring spirit of Ryan Lee, the non-profit actively seeks out opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others.
Lee died in 2009 from injuries suffered when he was hit by a car in Brooklyn near his college, Long Island University. Lee was a star golfer and basketball player at Berlin High School, and continued his golf career at LIU.
Lee is survived by his father Dan, his mother Theresa and his sister Amanda.
“We ran the golf tournament that first year because his friends John McNair and Tim Cote refused not to,” Dan Lee said before the start of the 13th Annual Ryan Lee Golf Classic, held Friday, Aug. 4. “Then we had to figure out what we really wanted this thing to be. What did we want the foundation to be. We asked [board member] Jim McNair to get involved because he was the president of the Boys Club and other organizations and knew how to build a non-profit. Then we had to decide who we were going to give the money to and what our mission was going to be. None of that was easy. And the whole time, we were still grieving Ryan’s loss. But, I can say for me, it was helpful because it gave me and our family purpose and something to look forward to.”
The foundation’s board of directors is made up of Dan Lee, Jim McNair, Rob Josephson, Mike Rugens, John McNair, Tim Cote and Mark DiLoreto, and each brings a different skill set to the table.
“I got on board a few years ago because I’m retired and thought it was a great way to help out,” DiLoreto said. “I now feel like I am part of a family here. I have a whole new group of family members and what they do daily is nothing short of a miracle.”
Here are some examples of the foundation’s work:
On or near Ryan’s birthday in July, a parade of volunteers come together to hold a food drive to re-stock the Berlin Food Pantry.
July and August are two of the toughest months for the pantry, so the timing of the drive is perfect. However, the weather could not have been much worse for this year’s drive, held on July 16.
Heavy rain led to local road closures, and the foundation feared the food drive may be a bust.
“Today we looked at the forecast and saw tornado predictions and flood warnings, I thought we were going to be letting down the people that rely on us in town. I thought we would be letting down Ryan,” the foundation stated in a social media post. “From 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., you, the community, drove through detour to detour in torrential rain to drive your car along curbside to drop off money, to get out of your car and get soaked just to give a hug … If the numbers are the gauge of today’s success, then yes, I think we were successful – $2,495 in gift cards and a trailer full of nonperishable food. But what if the numbers aren’t the gauge of our success. What if Ryan was looking down and saw one act of kindness. What if he saw his friends all grown up now. What if he saw them bring their babies to show their support … Berlin, you did good today. I think we did him proud. I think we succeeded.”
A teacher and coach at Cheshire High School, Dan Lee started a foundation-sponsored conference which brings together hundreds of students from all over the state to learn about leadership. Guest speakers at the conference have included UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, former Central Connecticut State University men’s basketball coach Howie Dickenman and leaders from the business community.
Also, the foundation awards Excellence in Leadership scholarships to graduates of Berlin, New Britain and Goodwin Tech high schools who understand the importance of helping others. Honorees receive a $2,000 scholarship each year they are in college.
There are also Ryan T. Lee scholarships, which are awarded to members of the Berlin High School basketball and golf teams upon graduation.
The foundation also sponsors an annual blood drive. Ryan was an organ donor and eight people were able to live on because of his selflessness. The Lee family was able to meet all eight of the recipients a few years ago. Dan Lee said it was one of the most emotional days of his life. “We got to hear Ryan’s heart and see all these families,” he said. “They didn’t have to do it, but they all agreed, and we met them. Some of them were able to grow up and go to college. Some were able to start a family. All of this because of Ryan. It was extremely emotional not just for us but for them as well.”
For the Christmas holiday, the foundation “adopts” a number of children in town who would otherwise have few, if any, gifts to open. The effort has been dubbed the Ryan T. Lee Holiday Giving Tree. Last year, the foundation adopted 52 families right here in Berlin.
The foundation also runs the Ryan T. Lee Memorial Collegiate golf tournament, which draws some of the top Division I golf programs on the east coast to Shuttle Meadow Country Club for a three-day event.
It has been 13 years since Ryan Lee passed away, and in that time, his foundation has made a difference in the lives of countless people.
Dan Lee believes the foundation will go over the $600,000 mark of charitable giving this year.
Ryan’s catch phrase, which adorns most of the foundation swag, is “Proud of Ya.” That number is surely something to be proud of.