“When he shows up to your house and tries to help you with a check or financial assistance. He doesn’t want to just parade in and draw attention to himself. He just wants to humbly hand over some money to the individual to put them at ease a little bit because they are going through traumatic situations whether it is a sick child and they lose some money putting their son or daughter in the hospital for treatment; or lose an automobile or their home.”
Rich started the Ignite the Spirit Fund realizing that firemen were in need. Not just in New York after the 9-11, but even closer to home. People behind the scenes that you might not be aware of, are hurting whether it’s financially or personally. People may be distraught in different ways.
“His idea was, how can we support people?” said Robert Maibuecher, Lieutenant at CFD Squad 2. “If someone was to lose their house in a fire, which has happened, we are not going to replace the house, but maybe we replace the clothes for the children, or themselves. Maybe on a lower level, they can help the individual.”
The Ignite the Spirit Fund started as an idea after 9-11. Many Chicago firemen traveled to New York to help out. Rich Pinskey was one of them. For him, 9-11 really hit hard especially returning home and seeing all the devastation. He and his colleagues designed a T-shirt and that raised $70,000. With that money, they were about to help 22 family members of fallen families.
“We wanted to do something for our firemen here when hardship strikes,” Pinskey said. “We want to help. We want to give.”
After that, these men started to brainstorm ideas. Pinskey had a web friend and they launched a website and “we were off and running,” Pinskey said.
During a marketing meeting, the team still needed a name. One of the men mentioned Ignite the Spirit and it stuck. From there the team got a group of Chicago firemen together to make a calendar. That was the true start of Ignite the Spirit.
“It was an exciting time,” said Pinskey, “A growing time, to figure out how to make money and give immediate help. As in immediate help, if you call at 3 p.m. I’ll be at your doorstep with a check by 6 p.m.”
In times of need Ignite the Spirit is there to help. For example, a Chicago fireman had a son suffering from alcoholism. He did not know where to turn to or who to ask for help. His family was suffering to cope through their son’s illness.
The fireman has been friends with Rich since the two started at the fire department, but the fireman had no real involvement with Ignite the Spirit. That soon changed after searching on the Rosecrance Addiction Center website and seeing the Ignite the Spirit logo.
It was clear to the family that this was not just a coincidence. They needed immediate help from Rich to get their son into Rosecrance young adult program. The fireman called Rich to explain the situation, and with his Rich listened and made one phone call to Rosecrance.
The son was admitted in two days. Rich and Ignite the Spirit’s support didn’t end there. For several months Rich continued to offer emotional and financial support. The family is deeply moved and grateful owing to Rich Pinskey’s friendship and to the Ignite the Spirit program for all the compassionate and generous support they received during a difficult family time.
Other members of the CFD have received assistance from Ignite the Spirit.
[pullquote]“Not only do we respect each other’s privacy, we also respect each other’s pride,” said Rich Pinskey, Chicago Fireman and President of the Ignite the Spirit Fund. “Perhaps our pride as men and women on the job is what keeps Ignite the Spirit in the shadows for many.”[/pullquote]
“The support given has been significant, and the overwhelming amount of gratitude given back is priceless,” Pinskey said. “The feelings are similar to witnessing the birth of a child, awe-struck and speechless. Have you ever walked into a stranger’s house, handed them a check, said a few kind words, given them a hug ensuring things will get better and then just leave? We have. Daily.”
Ignite the Spirit continues every day and lives true by the slogan, “We’re here when you need us.”
Recently, Ignite the Spirit has added a new effort called Food from the Heart. It provides support in the form of a meal for a family going through a rough time. The CFD personnel make meals for families, providing three meals a week, for six months. Food from the Heart supplies kindness in a meal.
“There was no better feeling than walking into a home and providing a meal to a family in need that was so happy and appreciative for us to be there,” said Tony Ferarris, fireman at CFD Squad 2.
Ferarris has had the honor of helping Rich many times through Ignite the Spirit, one of them being Food from the Heart.
“I’ve had the pleasure to assist Rich and be a part of this great organization he has going,” Ferarris said. “This man has a big heart and the willingness to give. I hope we can continue to give more throughout the years ahead through Ignite the Spirit thanks to Rich.”
[pullquote]The organization also has an Ignite’s Restaurant Pick of the Month. Each month a restaurant partners with the organization and gives a percentage of profits to the organization. For example, for the month of December, UNO’S pizza is the pick of the month. If you tell them that Ignite the Spirit sent you, UNO’S will give 20% of your dinner’s bill back to Ignite the Spirit. UNO’S will also give $1 for every time a guest fills out a feedback survey.[/pullquote]
The organization is funded through events and donations. Donations come from various businesses, prominent people, and corporations. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lori Greiner from Shark Tank, The Gale St Inn, Rosecrance, Accelerated Rehab, Wrigley Rooftops and Young Irish Professionals are a few of the top supporters. There are around 10 events a year to help raise money. These events include a Firemen’s Ball, which is coming up on February 7th, a 5K run, Ignite music fest, calendars, multiple bike rides, and toy drives.
Each year Ignite the Spirit spends $12-14,000 on toys for local hospitals. These include University of Chicago Medical Corner Children’s Hospital, Rush Children’s Hospital, Advocate Masonic Children’s Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. On top of that, they also hold a holiday toy drive and cocktail party. Each guest is to bring a new unwrapped toy and enjoy three hours of food, drinks and music for $25.
This is Ignite the Spirit’s 12th year and each year they continue to help more and more. The organization plans to get more support and donations from businesses and corporations to grow their funds and reach out their hand to more people in need.