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Ham driven to help bears help those in need

Ham driven to help bears help those in need

Story by Larry Mayer

Margeham was the co-captain of the first women’s basketball team at the University of Notre Dame. But another sport has always been her favorite.

As far as she can remember, when she was a five-year-old tomboy attending a kindergarten in northern New York, the longtime director of Bears Care, Bears’ charity, was obsessed with football.

“To be completely honest, football was my first love,” Ham said. “I watched all the New York Giants games with my dad. I had a football helmet. I asked for shoulder pads. [my parents] I will never buy me. But soccer was something I wish I could play at the time. When I watched the game, I loved the game. “

After her family moved to Birmingham, Michigan, on the outskirts of Detroit, Ham bought a Lions season ticket when he was in seventh grade. She recalls the brave cold and snow conditions when Lions sat indoors in the bleachers of Tiger Stadium before moving indoors to the Silverdome in 1975.

Given her passion for football, it’s no wonder Ham got a job in the NFL with Bears. But that didn’t happen until 2004, when she was looking for a second career. First, she graduated from Notre Dame University with a degree in accounting, passed the Certified Accountant Examination, and was hired by the accounting firm Pricewaterhouse.

After marrying her fellow accountant, Wardham, she eventually left the workforce, working as a housewife for about 10 years and raising three daughters. When her youngest child entered high school, Ham tried to get back to work-and found a position with Bears that she thought would fit perfectly.

“I felt it was a perfect fit for my skill set,” Ham said. “I felt I had a fairly broad knowledge of sports and football in particular. It was incredibly fascinating.”

When BearsCare was incorporated as a 501 © 3 organization in 2006, Hamm was appointed as its director. Ten and a half years after she continued her role, Bearscare has issued a total of approximately $ 23 million in grants to more than 100 qualified institutions, benefiting countless Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana residents. It was.

Ham emphasized that it was a team effort, arguing that “I do nothing personally” and praised the support of Bears Care’s board of directors, the team’s community relations department, the football communications department and others.

“It’s our fans, our communities and our business partners, and the Chicago Bears organization that make the difference,” says Ham. “It is their generosity and trust in Bears Care as a steward of their charitable donations that enables us to make a concrete impact on our community together.”

Ham humbly shares credit, but she is clearly the captain of the ship.

“She is very talented,” said Caroline Gipschlenker, who worked closely with Ham as Director of Community Relations for Bears from 2006 to 2015 and continues to be a member of the Bears Care Board of Directors. “She is passionate about bears care as well as teams. She has a bears organization to maximize support for charities so they can make the most impact in Chicago. I’m really finding a strategic and creative way to take advantage of it. “

According to its mission statement, Bears Care said, “Health awareness focused on education, youth athletics, medical research and breasts to improve the quality of life of people in the Chicagoland community, especially underprivileged children and their families. Through the program, ovarian cancer. “

Bears Care’s signature event remains Gala, a black tie event held every spring at the United Club in Soldier Field. Bears Care Gala includes team ownership, managers, coaches and players on a regular basis, including silent and live auctions. Funds raised at popular events are helping to research innovative breast and ovarian cancer in Chicago.

“Over the years, with the support of a great group of dedicated volunteers, we have developed a healthy annual process for raising funds. [we are] “We will work immediately with our hospital partners to identify where the dollar may have the most direct impact. We tracked investments throughout the year and helped supporters achieve them,” said Ham. We can report .. We are proud of the concrete scientific progress and discoveries we have made possible. “

Another annual BearsCare fundraiser is the “Real Bears Fans Wear Pink” campaign. The campaign raises funds by selling pink T-shirts to organizations that provide important services to breast cancer patients and their families.

“What I like about it is that it really only complements the gala,” Ham said. “Gala is funding a research and treatment program, but this initiative supports patients. It offers free exercise, nutritional counseling, treatment, and for children whose mothers are fighting breast cancer. We also fund summer camps. “

Bears Care has also collaborated with the Catholic Charities to host the annual Back to School Fair since 2009-19, when the team held a training camp in Bourbonnais. Held on the campus of Olivet Nazareth University, the event will serve residents of six neighboring counties, providing students with free visual and auditory screening, school physics, dental services, backpacks and school supplies. Provided.

“It was really important to the Kankakee County community,” Ham said. “The guests we support represent a cross-section of what American poverty looks like. It wasn’t dominated by racial or ethnic groups. It lived in a slightly suffering city of Kankaky. Some were farmers, others lived in the countryside. See how it traverses all people at all stages and steps of life. “

Bears Care is also partnering with a nearby group in Chicago to serve residents in need. Recently, Bears Care has invested $ 611,000 with the Chicago Bears to build a state-of-the-art training center and educational kitchen at the new Healthy Lifestyle Hub currently under development by Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation. The purpose of this project is to increase access to the health and wealth-building opportunities of South Side residents.

Ham has always been humble and inspired by those who benefit from the Bears Care effort. She remembers her mother and her son, a junior high school student, who won a complete set of bedroom furniture at one of Bourbonnais’s new school fairs.

“The young man couldn’t have been sweeter, nicer, and more thankful,” Ham said. “And the mother shed tears. She had just finished treatment for stage 3 cancer, lost her job due to illness, and they had a hard time making ends meet. She was very grateful and her son. Even I am always inspired by the resilience of the people we can serve.

“I think I’ve learned to be a better listener over the years, which has helped me to build valuable relationships and friendships with our charitable partners, donors and fans. Bears organizations can be represented primarily by people throughout Chicagoland and the communities we have created, and even small gestures from our organization can make incredible differences in people’s lives. It is humble to be able to see. “

Bears finished running at ONU in 2019 and returned the training camp to Halas Hall in Lake Forest last year. However, last summer, fans were barred from participating in the practice due to COVID-19, forcing Bears Care to quickly pivot and move the event to Zion Central Junior High School.

More than 1,300 students received Bears-branded face masks, hand sanitizers, backpacks with tissues, school supplies, health kits, as well as food from the North Illinois Food Bank and books from the Bernese Book Bank.

Adjusting on the fly is one of Ham’s greatest strengths.

Barb McCaskey, wife of Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey and a member of the Bears Care Board of Directors, said:

“She’s really adjustable. When things change or other needs arise, she realizes she’ll respond and responds cautiously. If one thing goes wrong, or in fact it Another way she serves the same group if she doesn’t become viable. She’s pretty good. “

Schlenker, who worked with Bears and Ham for 10 years, agrees with the explanation of the former Notre Dame Women’s Basketball co-captain.

“She approaches everything in a very practical yet empathetic way,” Schlenker said. “She is always strategically looking at how Bears Care has the greatest impact, but all the decisions she makes are about those who are benefiting from Bears Care.

“Her approach is to give the Chicagoland people the best possible experience, whether it’s a Bearscare-backed charity or a fan who is part of a Bearscare-backed program. Always make sure that you come up with ideas that make it possible. “

Watch the practice in Soldier Field

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Ham driven to help bears help those in need

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