While promoting the mission, triumphs, needs and goals of the nonprofit organizations they support.
Here’s my story: If you’ve been a longtime reader of the Daily Record, you may remember this advertisement:
You may have also wondered why it was featured in the Daily Record day after day and year after year.
The boy on the left is my nephew, Mark Degner. He and his friend
Bryan Hayes left their middle school on February 10, 2005, and they haven’t been seen since. We searched, hung flyers, worked with law enforcement, the Justice Coalition and missing persons organizations for as long as we possibly could while hoping and praying we would find him.
Being from the media world, I understood the power of getting the message and his face in front of a large audience. I also understood that once we hit a point that we had no “news”, there wasn’t much the media could continue to do to help keep his face out there except the occasional anniversary, missing persons day coverage, etc.
Unfortunately, our family still to this day does not know what happened to Mark & Brian. We continue to hold out hope, build community awareness in hopes it might bring new leads and support other families who have a loved one go missing.
In 2016, while walking around One Spark with my daughter, I noticed an A-frame billboard sign in the middle of Laura Street with my nephew, Mark’s picture on it. I went over to inquire about who they were, how they got pictures of these missing kids and what their overall mission was.
I spoke to Dennis Bair, former minor league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and founder of BairFind. His story and heart touched me so deeply that a man who has never personally experienced the hell of having a loved one go missing thought and took action to make a difference.
Jacksonville Daily Record | JaxDailyRecord.com, Publisher
The BairFind Foundation, Inc and the Missing Child Project, Board of Directors
Family member of a missing child
Here’s the story of The Missing Child Project:
Every year thousands of children go missing. Many of these children are found a short while later due to the selfless efforts of law enforcement agencies and other organizations. Unfortunately, thousands of children remain missing every year. The main reason is that as their profiles fade from the news and flyers, the leads quickly dry up. When the public stops looking, the chance of recovering a missing child decreases substantially.
Stepping Up To The Plate…
The BairFind Foundation, Inc. began in the world of Minor League Baseball (MiLB) with its founder, Dennis Bair, a pitcher drafted by the Chicago Cubs. By chance, Dennis saw a documentary about a 13-year-old girl who went to a concert and never came home. In the interview, the parents told of destitution having spent their entire life savings on billboards and flyers trying to keep her profile in public view – all to no avail. The flyers were simply thrown away.
Bair felt compelled to help and he had an idea. As a child, he cherished a photo Superbowl Champion and decorated war hero Rocky Bleier had autographed and personalized to him. When he became a professional ballplayer, Bair enjoyed signing the team posters that the players sign and give away to fans. He thought if ball clubs would inset a missing child photo on the team poster, fans would help get the word out. So he approached teams he had played for and received a resounding… YES!
The Power of Sports Marketing…
It didn’t take long for the program to evolve to reach a greater number of sports fans. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates joined the search using backlit signs in the stadiums, and the Cleveland Cavaliers showed profiles on their big screen at halftime. The Daytona Cubs had a spare wooden A-Frame they wanted to use for the profiles. Every person entering the ballpark passed by the sign on the concourse.
In 2016, MiLB President Pat O’Connor announced BairFind as an “Official Charity Partner” with a special designation of “Homegrown” due to Bair’s roots in baseball. A nationwide expansion took place as over 150 stadiums featured profiles of missing children to be seen by over 40 million sports fans annually.
The NBA G-League Fort Wayne Mad Ants and the NBA Indiana Pacers also adopted the program.
Ray Glier, in an article for USA Today, wrote “BairFind is the evolution of the milk carton of the 1980s”.
Never Give Up Hope…
In 2013, Bair received a phone call he will never forget. He heard the familiar voice of Nancy DeJesus who was calling from the hospital bedside of her daughter, Gina. Nancy excitedly and tearfully told Bair her daughter was found! Gina had been kidnapped and held captive for 9 years in a Cleveland home. Bair had become an advocate and friend of her family. Gina’s profile was featured in multiple ballparks. He invited her family to throw ceremonial first pitches while the local news reported on their efforts. Gina spoke of seeing her mother on the news throwing the baseball. She said it gave her hope and knowing that her family was still searching for her.
In 2015, Gina and her family returned with Bair to those same ballparks. This time it was Gina who threw the first pitches and her message is to “never give up hope”.
Seen at the ballpark…
Jessica Lack of the Tampa Yankees tells of the time that a family walked into the ballpark and their child said – “that’s Domenico” whose profile was on their BairFind sign. The parents questioned him that he was sure he knew the boy and he said “yes, he’s in my class”. The parents notified the front office staff who contacted the police officer on duty who took the necessary steps to confirm. The child was then reported as “found”.
As a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School, Corey Udell volunteered for BairFind events. Inspired by the mission, he created a school club designed to engage fellow students in the search for missing children. Udell teamed up with students Becca Snyder (Titusville HS) and Dylan Lukasca (Nease HS) to start clubs in their schools. Other students are stepping up to start a club.
The club model educates about the growing issue of missing children and local resources. It encourages leadership development in students, volunteer experience, and a diverse community focus.
A Call for Action…
We launched “The Missing Child Project” in 2022. This new brand retains the original mission of harnessing the power of sports marketing in the search for missing children and incorporates new models to engage youth, businesses, and individuals to help bring them home.
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