A New Course
For nearly two decades the CVS Health Charity Classic has brought together premiere golfers to help raise money for local non-profits. This year’s 19th edition came with a twist: a different format on the golf course and a new feature that attracted the best of the Providence food scene under one roof, with thousands of people turning out for a good cause.
For more information about the event, click here.
It is the golf, of course, that has been the draw for the better part of the past two decades.
Big-name professional golfers from the PGA, the LPGA and the Champions Tour, converging on the picturesque Rhode Island Country Club every June.
Just as the name has changed since it began in 1999 - it is now called The CVS Health Charity Classic - so has the event itself. But one thing remains constant: the stream of money generated from the weekend that every year is critical to the mission of dozens of charities throughout Rhode Island.
Merlo: ``We’re all very proud of the fact we’ve been able to donate over $20 million since the tournament began 19 years ago and we look forward to adding to that total this year.’’
CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said to keep the tournament fresh, organizers changed the format this year: putting together the 18 players in teams of three and shortening it to two days instead of three.
Merlo: ``We’re always trying to do some new things and at the same time while the tournament focuses on great golf we want to also make it inclusive for golfers and non-golfers.’’
And that was the inspiration behind Crave RI, which debuted this year: a two-day culinary display on the floor of the Dunkin Donuts Center leading up to the golf tournament. More than 4,000 people sampled signature dishes from local restaurants over Thursday and Friday night, for an entry price of $20 - all part of the money raised for the CVS charities.
Merlo: ``Think about Rhode Island, think about the great restaurants we have, what an opportunity not just to showcase what exists here in Rhode Island but to open it up for the public and the crowds were just terrific.’’
Merlo had the same reaction many did when they first walked in.
Merlo: ``I said `Wow am I really in the Dunk?’ The layout was great, the ambience was great, I think the restaurateurs and the beverage vendors that were there, they were excited about the response they were getting. It just came off extremely well.’’
Walker: ``A lot of people coming through who were really just happy to be part of this. They knew the funds were going to non-profits, so it’s a great way to give back. People have really been enjoying the event, the restaurants downstairs are incredible.’’
Claire Walker is the Grants Project Manager for The Autism Project in Johnston, one of the charities the tournament has helped over the years. She was at the Dunk Thursday and Friday night helping check people in at Crave.
Walker: ``CVS has been very generous to the Autism Project and really a great supporter for a long time, for a lot of years, on a night like tonight with Crave and also the golf classic that is coming up. The funds that we’ll receive at the Autism Project will be used specifically for our summer camp: Camp Wonnagoagain and they will be used for our social skills groups. Those are our two main components, so they’re going to go right to child and youth programming.’’
And the proceeds from Crave help make it possible.
Walker: ``Not does it only help with what we have there for materials, support staff that are there but it’s also about scholarship funds that allow the kids to be able to attend the camp. No one is turned away because of their needs. What we want for these kids is to be able to come and just to have summer camp like everybody else. Like their siblings can go to summer camp, like their neighbors, like the kids sitting next to them in classroom gets to go to summer camp, they want to be able to go to summer camp and that’s what this is about.’’
Right in the middle of it all on both nights was Jennifer Behm-Lazzarini, owner of RED FIN Crudo + Kitchen in Providence. She is a Master Chef winner who gave her own cooking demonstration on Friday. We spoke with her right after the demonstration.
Behm-Lazzarini: ``Last night we served 1,500 dishes. I nearly fell over. At and at a even usually they’re like, Oh be prepared for X and you’re like okay. This event held true, people came out with their families they had their children, they had their grandchildren and it was so nice to really see them, everybody was in that community aspect. So it was really awesome that CVS wanted it to be price point friendly so everybody could enjoy it, because sometimes at food events, they’re a little pricey. This is the perfect combination of everything.’’
And the charity component made it particularly special for her.
Behm-Lazzarini: ``Since I was a very young girl my mom instilled in me giving back - I’ve always volunteered at her nursing home. So for me it’s something isn’t unusual. We always find a charity that we really want to sink our teeth into and we give everything. We put it all on a plate, as you can see. The flavor, the food, we really think about wowing the diner every though they’re not inside our four walls and giving back to the community at the same time. It’s a win-win for everybody.’’
Santilli: ``The corporate support that we receive from CVS Health and many corporations in Rhode Island support many non profits, is critical.’’
Karen Santilli is the president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island - another beneficiary of charity classic funds.
SantillI: ``The area of biggest need from Crossroads is in our shelter programs and our ability to stay open 24 hours a day/7 days a week. The funding we receive through CVS Charity classic allows us to balance that portion of thee budget when people are homeless and they have nowhere to go and it’s midnight, where are they going to go? Crossroads is open.’’
This year tournament co-host Billy Andrade’s team won - it was Andrade’s first victory at the Charity Classic in 19 tries.
And it was a Rhode Island exclamation point on another successful tournament weekend.
Behm-Lazzarini: ``You know, I had so many people come up to me last night and say `Oh my gosh this is on my bucket list to eat at and now I can try it and now I have to come,’ so it really is nice that you get this huge opening to people you wouldn’t necessarily have - especially those that live outside the city - they may not feel comfortable coming to downtown Providence.’’
Santilli: ``I think it’s awesome that they remember Rhode Island they’re right here in Rhode Island, they remember their Rhode Island charity partners, it’s actually fun for us to participate in the Charity Classic. We get to engage some of our loyal volunteers, many of our employees participate as a volunteers.’’
Merlo: ``At the heart of the Charity Classic it’s all about giving back and supporting the wonderful work that these terrific charities are doing to help those less fortunate.’’
In Barrington - and Providence - Jim Hummel, for The Rhode Island Spotlight.