Votto stages benefit for veterans with PTSD
* Cincinnati Reds 1B Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) won his fourth-straight National League on-base title (.435) but what he’s concentrating on now is his first Joey Votto Foundation Benefit Night in Montgomery, Ohio on Dec. 5. Proceeds go to military men in Cincinnati and Toronto suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. ….
By Melissa Couto
When Joey Votto first started thinking about how he could give back to his community, several ideas ran through his head.
But there was only one he couldn’t let go.
Focusing on veterans returning home from duty with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman began building his charitable organization — Joey Votto Foundation — in 2012 from the ground up.
“I’ve always had a profound respect for Canadian and American military members and their families,” Votto said. “I really wanted to get behind a cause that supports them.”
Yet, there was a little more to it than that.
Though the Toronto native and former National League MVP winner, doesn’t come from a military bloodline, PTSD — and mental health in general — is a cause that hits home.
In 2008, during his second year in the big leagues, Votto lost his father, also named Joseph Votto.
While grieving, the then 24-year-old suffered from overwhelming panic attacks and bouts of depression that landed him on the disabled list due to stress the following season.
Looking back now, Votto sees his personal struggle as the catalyst that propelled him to set up his current foundation.
“There were a bunch of avenues I could go with, but because of my experiences in the past with emotional struggles, I wanted to help others who are going through mental health issues,” he said. “I chose a path I’m very passionate about and it’s something I’m familiar with.
“It makes sense to me from an experience standpoint, and it’s something I want to support.”
To get his foundation off the ground, Votto hired Jill Miller, former development director at Ronald McDonald House, as the organization’s executive director last October.
Miller says Votto takes his role as founder and chairman of the foundation seriously.
Communication between the two of them is constant, no matter where the travelling ball player happens to be. On home stands, they have face-to-face meetings, and when Votto is on the road, emails and phone calls are exchanged instead.
“Joey is a genuine person and he isn’t the type to start a foundation because he wants to have his name on one,” Miller said. “In fact, he’s the opposite. He’d rather remain behind the scenes or anonymous.
“I respect him for realizing that he does have a voice and he can draw awareness and attention to an important issue using that voice.”
Together with Miller, Votto has spent the last several months preparing for the foundation’s opening fund-raising event — to be held in Montgomery, Ohio on Dec. 5.
Titled the Joey Votto Foundation Benefit Night, the event will feature live and silent auctions where donors can bid on items such as jersey autographed by retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, a ball signed by Hall of Famer Ted Williams, a trip for two to Los Angeles to meet Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, and a 45-minute coaching session — led by Votto himself — for the winner’s child’s baseball team.
“The goal is to try to raise money, raise awareness and provide potential donors with peace of mind about where their dollar is going and what my role is,” Votto said. “I hope to convey to people that I truly believe in this.”
The foundation’s website states that all proceeds from the event will benefit soldiers, veterans, and military families affected by PTSD.
Along with the auctions, the event will feature a question and answer period with Votto and his teammate, right-fielder Jay Bruce.
Votto says he expects several of the Reds to show up, but he’s especially grateful to have Bruce involved in his foundation’s first big night.
“I’ll be very honoured to have any of them there, but Jay and I have had a long relationship,” Votto said. “We’ve traversed the minor league terrain together, played in all-star games together, gone to the playoffs together, and watched each other have big moments.
“We have a good relationship and it’s one that’s real. We interact both on and off the field and him wanting to come to the event means a tremendous amount to me.”
Miller sees the importance the Reds’ support has had on both Votto and the foundation.
“I think it makes Joey feel good to know that his teammates support him and rally behind him,” she said. “This is new ground for the Reds too because they’ve never had a single player start a foundation like this.
“Most of their players do things through the Reds Community Fund, but they don’t have their standalone charitable foundations and I think it’s been a learning opportunity for all of us.”
As Votto continues to learn the ropes of running a charitable organization in his adopted home of Ohio, his original home is not far from his mind.
The former Etobicoke Ranger lists his mission statement as supporting veterans and their families in both Cincinnati and Toronto.
“In the future our goal is to figure out where I can help out in Toronto, how I can be present and interact with Canadian veterans, and how I can bring awareness to both Toronto and Cincinnati,” Votto said.
“In some way, big or small, I want be involved back home because that’s definitely something that’s important to me.”