Louisville’s rich history conjures a robust list of family names, a veritable cast of characters springing up from every arena to add their own certain something – Brown, Sanders, Brandeis, Ali, Lawrence and Speed to name only a few. One such name, Petrino, has proven in recent years to pack a double punch in more ways than one, transcending from athletic to philanthropic eminence.
When Bobby Petrino returned to University of Louisville football in 2014, his playbook included a charge toward helping the city where he found fame as a coaching powerhouse. He promptly established the Petrino Family Foundation with his elder daughter, Kelsey Petrino-Scott, at the helm as executive director. In just two years, the foundation has paid out to the populace in far more than monetary provisions; rather, this is a concerted endowment to lift up individuals and groups in the community that lifted up and cheered for Petrino.
“It started when we all moved back here,” says Petrino-Scott. “My parents had given a donation to the children’s hospital when they were here before to build a new family center for NICU patients. When they came back, they wanted to get involved with the hospital again, but instead of doing a one-time thing, they sat down and came up with the idea of starting a foundation that could do more. A couple months after that, my dad called me and asked what I planned to do with my life. He told me that he had started a foundation and asked me if I would run it for him. That’s how I got involved.”
Speaking with Petrino-Scott yields a form of reassurance not often found in charitable organizations. She is distinctly un-hushed about her role, the projects she’s excited about and where the money goes. Though parentage alone made her an obvious choice to run the organization, her successful execution makes it clear that she was the optimal recruit by a tactful coach.
As the only paid employee, her obligations are numerous and the administrative overhead is kept minimum. “I do everything,” she says. “I’m an event planner and an office manager. I do have a lot of great volunteers and board members, including some attorneys to help with the legal side and a CPA. I go out and visit charities, which is probably my favorite part of the job – to find the various organizations that are doing stuff to help affect the community as well as singular families and children, and try to raise funds to pass on.”
For its starting contribution, the foundation revisited a familiar play. Shortly after branding an official name, the family announced a $1 million donation to fund a trauma room at Kosair Children’s Hospital. Petrino-Scott explains it as a sort of no-brainer, a way for the foundation to get off the ground by putting its name on a resource intended to pay back exponentially for the indefinite future.
“The families and children who use that trauma room are in one of the most desperate times that they’ll ever be in, where parents are facing the possibility of losing a child,” she expounds. “It’s nice to be able to fund a room that these children are being sent to where everything they could possibly need to save their life is in one place. I always tell people that I hope it’s a room they never see, but they can rest assured that the hospital is prepared to deliver.”
Due to the very nature of the room’s purpose, funding it is no small endeavor. A trauma setting at a children’s hospital requires the supplies to treat a tiny baby as readily as a grown teenager. Petrino-Scott admits that this initial pursuit took a large bite from their financial allotment and will continue to do so until 2020. It makes sense, then, that for a follow-up endeavor, the Petrinos turned their attention from the needs of an entire city’s children to those of just one.
Just over a year ago, the foundation announced their funding of a Cardinal Covenant Scholarship, designed to provide an academic opportunity to otherwise disadvantaged students in Metro Louisville. The inaugural recipient, Ra’Vonte Harbin, is the first student from the West End School to attend the University of Louisville. Petrino-Scott describes him as much more than a charitable success, however, and considers him part of the family.
“He goes to all the football games with us,” she says, “And he comes over and eats dinner at our house. My kids think he’s like an older cousin. To be able to help him meet his academic goals and move on to a better life is really great, and he knows he’s welcome at my house any time.”
Aside from the common thread of bettering the Louisville community, the foundation seems to likewise steer toward initiatives that don’t just pay off but pay back. The domino effects become clear as Kelsey explains their significances. The trauma room is there to save lives time and time again, and the scholarship permits an individual to reach a level of personal success as to positively influence his surroundings. Another such example is the otherwise straightforward donation to purchase new uniforms for the UofL marching band.
“Our first year, we gave a donation specifically to the band because they needed new uniforms, and last year, we also gave a gift to the Spirit Team,” Petrinio-Scott says. “They are two programs that are largely underfunded but that are a huge part of our Louisville Cardinal family. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much community service they do. At Christmas time, we work with the Salvation Army to take gifts down to the hospital to deliver to the kids, and they just love it. They light up when they see the Cardinal Bird come in their room, or they want to take a picture with a cheerleader and hold the pom-poms. And the football players will be down there too. It’s really nice to help them in their fundraising efforts so they can come and do stuff like that with us instead of worrying about making the money to run their programs.”
It’s that simple and that influential: fund the logistics so these students can contribute their time to children in a hospital setting. Petrino-Scott hopes to continue this theme of contagious ambitions, and her list of deserving prospects is long and ever-growing. One worthwhile program Louisvillians can look forward to in the remainder of 2016 is an unexpected and distinctly modern cause. The foundation is currently working to introduce the “Head-in-the-Game Mindfulness Program,” which aims to teach participants the strategies and benefits of self-awareness.
“We started off with a training session last month just for adults, and we had a guest speaker come out from California who led us in different techniques and taught us all about mindfulness,” Petrino-Scott recounts. “So many JCPS and preschool teachers attended. They learned techniques that have been proven to help kids pay attention in school or get better grades. They’ve also been shown to help adults lower their blood pressure and boost immune support. There aren’t many programs out there that focus on mental health like that even though we desperately need them. Since starting this, I’ve found out that there are some smaller programs around Louisville as well, so my goal now is to get in touch and work together to really push mindfulness on our community. We’re hoping to have another session during Christmas break when kids are off school for adults and children.”
Aside from being the most convenient time to reach parents and children alike, the holiday season seems an appropriate time to teach mindfulness as so many of us find ourselves swept away in the December chaos – absorbed in consumerism or faced with challenging familial obligations. While Petrino-Scott explains the program’s goals, the benefits manifest quickly as does the realization that proactive mental health resources are not the sort of project we can usually expect from very public charitable organizations. Only in recent years has the focus on mental health advanced, but efforts are often channeled at reactive mental health – treating an issue after it’s established instead of educating people across the age spectrum to nurture their brains first.
“If adults learn these techniques, they can teach our kids how to be mindful about who they are, how they interact with the world and with themselves. They learn to stop, breathe, think and then act. I’m really excited to see how it grows.” Petrino-Scott says more information about a future session will be made available as details are finalized.
For those wishing to participant in the Family Foundation’s efforts, Petrino-Scott reminds us that football season is also the time for their namesake Tailgate Parties, the proceeds from which benefit their pledges including Kosair and the Covenant Scholarship. Held before each game, the tailgates have a proven record of success and earned approximately $100,000 last year alone, she says.
“We also have our golf event that coincides with the spring game. This year, we opened it up the night before with an event called the Coaches and Cocktails reception, which we held in the Schnellenberger Complex. I’m hoping next year to get to do it in the new academic center, that way people can see facilities and parts of the university that they wouldn’t normally get to see. This year, we raised just under $150,000 with that event.”
A new event in February 2017 will round out the trifecta of the foundation’s annual events. An Evening of Xs and Os is an intended mix of Valentine’s Day and football celebration, with planned highlights such as live music, a wine auction and a keynote speaker. Petrino-Scott points out each of these occasions requires volunteers to function, and while such events may not be accessible to many people throughout Louisville, the resulting funds filter directly back to them.
“I have lots of ideas and things I want to do for the community,” she affirms. “I want to be able to provide free or low-cost family events. It’s not all about filling our bank account, but even when we do, I get to turn around and give it away. That’s the best part of my job.”
A happy side effect of the foundation’s existence is the reassurance that the Petrino family is investing in a city that welcomed them back and plans to continue well into the future. “I know a lot of people still have questions about whether my dad will stay. This is also a means to help soothe some of those worries and let people know he’s not going anywhere. This is it for him, and he’s happy with that.”
Suffice it to say Louisville is happy too. VT
Story by Kellie Doligale | Photos by Jacob Zimmer