New York — Russell Wolff, the million-mile-a-year head of ESPN International, is being celebrated for charitable work at the world’s biggest locally based philanthropy.
Honoree of the year at UJA-Federation of New York’s Sports For Youth Division, Wolff co-chairs an effort raising more than $300,000 yearly for projects helping disadvantaged kids play sports. The March 8 luncheon alone raised $320,000.
One project, in suburban New York, is a baseball league for children on the autism spectrum — who, as Wolff said, didn’t have any sports options before the Miracle League of Westchester was created, backed by the Sports For Youth Fund.
“And it’s the perfect model,” he said. “We gave them $10,000 the first year, $10,000 the second year, now we’re down to $5,000, it will be self sustaining in the coming years. We’re there to get things like that off the ground.”
Wolff and other Sports For Youth volunteers visit grant applicants, raise money for projects and follow up to make sure what was promised, happens.
“We all know actions speak louder than words, and Russell delivers,” George Bodenheimer, the co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and President of ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports, said in introducing him before handing him the award (pictured).
Wolff joined the UJA Federation’s Sports For Youth campaign five years ago and helped it grow to what it has become from a small, startup charity with a single annual fundraiser, fellow co-chair Donna Orender, the former head of the WNBA, said at the luncheon.
Wolff’s biggest laugh line at the lunch was when he talked about fitness and how he was someone who had “taken it back into his life. You know, I’ve lost 80 pounds since I joined ESPN.” Applause. “Forty pounds, twice!” Laughs. “And I hope not to have to do it again.”
This Sunday, Wolff will be out in support of Sports For Youth at the New York City Half Marathon. Twenty people are running and almost $30,000 has been raised as a result this year, following two half marathon runs that raised nearly $150,000.
Wolff told me before the lunch that one of the things he admires about UJA-Federation of New York is that, although it is a Jewish charity whose stated mission is to care for those in need, strengthen the Jewish people, and inspire a passion for Jewish life and learning, it has maintained support for programs in places that were historically Jewish but have changed, such as the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Washington Heights.
Now, he said, he hopes others will get involved, including in a leadership role at the Sports Fund.