A few articles ago, I mentioned how many amazing charity events there are in and around Kansas City and how difficult it is to devote the time, energy and resources to the ones that most touch your heart.
I’ve talked to a number of chefs, restaurateurs, and wine and spirits folks through the years about this. What I continually hear is that they would go broke and have no time for their actual business if they responded to each request, no matter how worthy the charity is.
Many said they tried to focus on a particular area of need and a specific charity or two. For many, as you might imagine given the nature of their business, the spotlight shone most brightly on events dealing with hunger, especially childhood hunger.
Having raised two wonderful children with my wife of more than 30 years, I, too, have an affinity for child-related causes. I wrote recently about the Cook for Courage event, where a number of Kansas City chefs gathered under the 12th Street Bridge for a rib cook-off, with funds going to the Child Protection Center, a group that fights against and promotes awareness of child abuse. The food was great, but the time, effort and heart put into the event by the chefs was truly amazing.
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This weekend, another event caught my eye. It’s called the E3 Family Day at the Ranch. It’s a chance for special needs children and young adults participating in the YMCA’s Challenger program to “be a cowboy for a day.”
The E3 Ranch, in Fort Scott, Kan., is owned by former big league first baseman Adam LaRoche. E3, for those who didn’t grow up keeping score at ballgames, refers to an error on the first baseman — E meaning error, and 3 being the number given to the first baseman for scoring purposes.
This Saturday, though, the events at the E3 Ranch couldn’t be any further from an error. They are a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series. That’s how much this day means to the kids and their families who will attend.
LaRoche famously walked away from a $13 million contract with the Chicago White Sox because someone on the team told White Sox president Ken Williams they didn’t want LaRoche’s son, Drake, hanging around the clubhouse all the time. Williams communicated that to LaRoche, who told his teammates he was “choosing his son over you guys.”
I get the sense that the situation is much more complex than the White Sox, LaRoche or most of the media have made it out to be. But a deeper analysis of LaRoche and his decision to retire is for another time and place.
This much, however, can and should be said: LaRoche cares deeply about his family, his faith, and the children and parents he’ll host at his ranch this weekend.
I wanted to know how the Challenger day at the ranch came about. LaRoche’s childhood friend, Adam Gross, got him involved in the program. Gross had coached a lot for Special Olympics, and someone asked him to be on the YMCA Challenger board. He accepted and was on the board for a few years in addition to helping coach their football, soccer and basketball programs.
The Y Challenger program accepts participants from the age of 4 to 30 with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities. The goal is to create friendships, develop and promote social interaction and, in general, give the kids and young adults the chance to grow and thrive.
I can only imagine how special a day on a cattle ranch hosted by a former major league baseball player must be to the Challenger group. It’s clearly special for LaRoche, too. “I love the chance to give the kids a chance to enjoy the outdoors and the ranch lifestyle for a day. Hopefully, we can do this more often going forward,” LaRoche said.
The children and their families will participate in many ranch activities, from a cattle roundup, to bottle-feeding a calf, to milking a dairy cow. Oh, and since this is Chow Town, I should mention there’s going to be great food too, with amazing steaks and burgers provided by E3. The meat will be grilled up and served with mouth-watering sides by Kansas City’s own Shannon “Firebug” Kimball.
The activities and the food are sure to bring smiles to the kids’ faces. For LaRoche, that’s what it’s all about. “To see those smiles will be unforgettable,” LaRoche said. A home run for LaRoche and the kids!
Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.