Cleveland Browns fans are giving people.
Every week, they give their hearts and souls while cheering for the Browns on game day, but when the contests are over, the fans find another way to give back to the team and their local communities. With the same passion that they use to cheer on the Browns every Sunday, members of the Browns Backers Worldwide fan club support charitable efforts around the country.
“We started this thing on Christmas Eve 2005,” said Stan Gage, president of the Southeast Michigan Browns Backers. “Our first real season was in 2006, and I started it just so I could watch games with Browns fans, but I quickly started to learn that while I had a group of people together, that we could start to do things that could help the local community. We started doing fundraisers, bringing in players for autograph signings and searching for charities that we thought we could help and support. It’s been really rewarding.”
Kim Touey, president of the Browns Backers of Pinellas, Florida, added, “We’re one, big family. Like other families, you help family members in need, whether it’s the community or yourself. If you’re sitting there watching a football game, you’re having a good time talking amongst your friends, we ask, ‘Hey, would you like to donate five dollars to this?’ We’re all very willing to give.”
The Southeast Michigan Browns Backers support many charities in Michigan, including the Penrickton Center for Blind Children. During their annual “Cry in your Beer Bawl” event, the Southeast Michigan Browns Backers hosted former Browns defensive back Frank Minnifield and defensive lineman
The annual event has raised at least $1,000 in each of the last three years with the record of $2,500 earlier this year.
“The neat thing about the Penrickton Center is it is fully funded by donations,” Gage said. “It’s like a day-care center for children that have multiple disabilities. In order to qualify for their care, children have to be legally blind and have another disability. If you went to the place, it’s kind of heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. The kids in there certainly need serious help, and the families that bring their children have no cost. It’s all fully funded by donations from groups like us.”
Tuoey and the Browns Backers of Pinellas, Florida, annually support the MVP program through a local charity that provides vouchers for people to get mammographies to test for breast cancer. Since the start of the Mammography Voucher Program, the Browns Backers of Pinellas, Florida, have allowed hundreds of people to get tested for breast cancer.
Nearly 10 percent of the women and more than 10 percent of the men who have received a voucher through the program have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We hold a raffle every week to support the program, and in 12 years, we’ve raised about $32,000 for them,” Tuoey said. “We do that every year in October.
“For every $100 that we raise, one woman in Pinellas County can get a mammogram, and we have a lot of members that will even put up a $100 check for it every year. We had a member five years ago that was saved by this program. She was unable to afford a mammogram, and she did go get one. They found breast cancer, and she was able to be treated. She’s cancer-free now. Some of the other members have been able to take advantage of this service because they don’t have insurance.”
Each year, Kris Vadas and the Growlin’ Howland Browns Backers in Warren, Ohio, hold a golf outing and corn-hole tournament to benefit the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Warren.
Through the golf outing and corn-hole tournament, the Growlin’ Howland Browns Backers have been able to raise $10,000 for the hospital in the last three years.
“We took a tour of their facility the first year we were coming on board to help them and we saw what they do inside their building,” Vadas said. “It was just simply amazing what they do with these kids.
“It’s hard to put into words. These kids, they see no evil in the world. They give me pure joy when I’m in there. I go to the facility quite often, not to work, but to talk to some of the workers. Just seeing the kids smiling when they leave after they’re done with their session, it’s heartwarming.”
While the Browns were playing the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 20, 20 of the team’s alumni visited Browns Backers clubs all over the country to support local charities.
Kevin Mack, Milt Plum, Tarek Saleh, David Brandon, Bill Duff, Mike St. Clair, Tom Beutler, Rich Mostardi, Jim Ray Smith, Deryck Toles, John Thierry, Brian Brennan, Don Horn, Judge Dick Ambrose, Lomas Brown, Jamel White, Hanford Dixon, Randy Rich, Greg Pruitt, Roger Chanoine, and Al “Bubba” Baker lent their talents to various causes to support the Browns Backers.
In addition to their events throughout the year, the Southeast Michigan and Growlin’ Howland Browns Backers annually support the United States Marine Corps Reserves’ Toys For Tots campaign.
By collecting more than $2,500 in toys, the Growlin’ Howland Browns Backers had the largest one-day drive in the Youngstown area, and the Southeast Michigan Browns Backers purchased more than $1,000 in toys.
For Gage, the Toys For Tots campaign is a personal one, as he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, headquartered in Brook Park, Ohio, from 1984-89.
“I was there, so I saw it and was a part of it as a Marine reservist,” Gage said. “It’s rewarding to see. If everybody does a little bit, it all becomes a lot because when we pulled that truck in -- we went to their warehouse in Brooklyn -- and saw the thousands of toys that are being organized by these Marines and know that these kids are going to have a better Christmas just because some football fans were sitting at a bar and buy a five-dollar raffle ticket, it adds up to a lot of smiling faces for these kids.”