Foundation Friday : Buffalo Sabres Foundation

The Buffalo Sabres Foundation really began to grow it’s legs the season after the lockout of 2004-05.

It had gone dormant for a few years but once hockey was back in action for the 2005-06 season the Sabres decided to ramp up their efforts. They began to put a bigger emphasis on fundraising and giving in the community. Children with disabilities and children from disadvantaged economic backgrounds were the initial focus of the foundation. They eventually went on to also support multiple adult organizations before finally narrowing down their work a bit.



Military Work

In 2012, the mission of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation became a little more narrow and a change was made. There are three initiatives they take part in to help those in the military and their veterans.

Operation Backbone

Operation backbone is an organization that provides surgeries for veterans. Primarily these veterans are in need of extensive and immediate work on their neck and back. Normally these needs are met rather slowly by a normal organization. However, Operation Backbone is not a normal organization. They have the means to fast track surgeries for veterans.

They also recognize the importance of rehabilitating veterans and teaching them how to manage their pain without being dependent on medicine.

If you look at the suicide rate of veterans it’s 22 a day and a lot of them are doing so there is an emotional piece to it there is also a physical piece to it. A lot of these guys are in so much pain. They are medicated to a point where they are zombies. Operation backbone’s mission is to fast track them to get the medical help that they need.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

Doctors in Buffalo perform the surgeries for Operation Backbone while the Sabres training staff help with the rehabilitation process.

We are very involved in that and it goes beyond writing a check.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres


Patriot Heights

In May 2016, an old YMCA building on the east side of Buffalo will serve as housing for homeless veterans. The unit will be called Patriot Heights.

This is one of the bigger projects the Sabres Foundation has funded over the years.

By the time we are done funding them it will be over 1.2 million dollar commitment from our organization. Which from us is a ton of money. It’s really substantial.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

Sabres Sled Vets

The Sabres Sled Vets program was started back in 2012 for military veterans, able bodied and amputee, to play sled hockey. Over the past three years the program has flourished so much they were able to add a stand up program. The stand-up program allows veterans who don’t have disabilities to come back and participate in the program.

Through the Sled Vets program the Sabres Foundation discovered they were able to change the lives of injured veterans. The program reconnects veterans with the comradery they have been missing since they left the military.

The great thing about the program is it makes these men and women feel like they are a team again. Many of them have become isolated. They weren’t leaving their homes. They weren’t interacting with anyone not even other veterans.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

Between the two programs 100 veterans have been able to come together through their love of hockey.


Holiday Angels Program

For years the players in the Buffalo Sabres organization would adopt a family in Western New York around Christmas and ensure they had an enjoyable holiday season. This year the fans got in on the giving action. Fans are given three giving options. They can adopt a family, give an individual gift, or donate a gift card for Catholic Charities to disperse to families in need.

Signing up to be a part of the Holiday Angels Program is extremely simple. Realizing the time constraints people have during the bustling holiday season the Sabres Foundation placed a form online for interested donors to fill out.

Thanks to the organization, fans, and the simplicity of the online form the Sabres Foundation will have helped 100s of families through the Holiday Angels Program.

I was speaking with the lady from Catholic Charities yesterday and this will be over 400 families we helped. Which is awesome. It doesn’t matter if it was 10 people or 400 people, it’s the fact the fans are stepping up.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

Grant Program

Since 2004 the Sabres Foundation has granted money to multiple non-profit organization throughout Western New York. Below are just a few of the organizations who have been helped by the Sabres Foundation.

Tender Wishes

Since 1980, Tender Wishes spends their time granting wishes of children suffering life threatening illnesses who are located in the Regional Municipality of Niagara Falls.

Tender Wishes runs on volunteers, receive no government grants, and they are not affiliated with any national or international wish giving organization. They also continue to maintain contact with the child even after they have fulfilled their wish.

Kaleida Health Foundation

Located in Buffalo, Kaleida Health Foundation provides quality care to patients in Western New York. They also educate future leaders in the health care realm as well as look for innovative ways to cure illness.

They use the word “CARE” to sum up their values of accountability, respect, integrity, excellent, and remaining centered around the patient.

Hunters Hope Foundation and Kelly for Kids

Both Hunters Hope Foundation and Kelly for Kids are the brain children of former Buffalo Bills star, Jim Kelly.

Hunters Hope was started in 1997 after his son was diagnosed with a fatal nervous system disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy. The Kelly family saw there were other families dealing with the same struggle as well. They felt like they needed to do something to help make a difference in the lives of those suffering from Krabbe Leukodystrophy. Thus, the foundation was born to help families screen their children for the disease and then help them through the rough road ahead if the screening came back positive.

Kelly for Kids focuses on disabled and disadvantaged kids in the Western New York area. They are able to help different organizations throughout the area with the grant money they raise during the year.



Most of the money for the military program and grants comes straight from fan oriented fundraising. A few of these fundraisers are the 50/50 raffle and the Road Crew.


The Sabres Foundation didn’t always do a 50/50 raffle. They didn’t see a need for it at first. However, a former player kept telling them about how well the raffle does in Canada. After awhile the Sabres Foundation decided to try the 50/50 raffle out on fans and it changed everything.

It’s revolutionized our foundation. There is only so much money you raise through special events. The 50/50 really brought it to a much different level. It allowed us to do so many more things. We never would have been able to do Patriot Heights without the raffle. At least not to this extent.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

50% of the proceeds goes to the person who won. The other 50% is split between the foundation and the non-profit groups who volunteer to sell the tickets at games.

Road Crew

After seeing a strong showing of Buffalonians around the country the Sabres Foundation came up with an idea that would raise money and bring fans together. They would travel across the country while the Sabres were playing on the road and hosts parties for their out of town fans. If the fans couldn’t come to the Sabres, the Sabres were going to come to them.

We came up with the idea a few years back to have gathering parties for the Sabres when they are on the road. The night before we host an event at a local pub and have the coaches, broadcasters, and some of the alumni come out.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres


Tickets are sold to the event and a the proceeds go to the Sabres Foundation. While there you can partake in the drink specials on hand, enter a rafffle for Sabres themed prizes, and meet other Western New Yorkers in the area.

It’s a really passionate thing. You get a bunch of people who are from Buffalo and are Sabres fans. Every party has been a big hit because the people who go are so proud of their team.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres


Fans and the Sabres Platform

Buffalo is not a glamorous city. They aren’t about the glitz, fame, and glory. Hardworking, dedicated, genuine, and compassionate are some of the best words to describe the city.

Buffalo is portrayed as cold and bad economical but it’s giving and generous. There’s more depth to Buffalo. It just takes a little longer to figure it out.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

Based on the generous nature of the city the Sabres Foundation has never questioned whether or not the fans will decide to back a worthy cause.

It’s great. It’s one of the funnest parts for me. We don’t have any question if someone will support us. The answer is always yes. That’s buffalo. That’s sports teams. They will always do what their team asks them to do in most cases.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres Foundation use this to their advantage and allows other organizations in the area to share their platform to spread the wealth around the city. They understand the positive influence they have on their fans and the local community.

That’s why I feel compelled to do a lot because we have the ability to influence. You almost feel like you would be cheating if you weren’t doing enough because we have the platform. We hold the golf tournament for Boys and Girls Club of America. It’s a harder sell for them. They don’t have the same carrot (NHL players) that we have. So we have to do it. We can raise money and give it to the Boys and Girls Club.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

It goes beyond cutting a check for the Sabres Foundation. They want to be a hands on foundation. They want their actions to match their talk. Cutting a check to an organization and not staying involved with them afterwards is not something the Sabres Foundation wants to do. They want to create relationships and grow the city to be a better place than when they found it.

Patriot Heights is the perfect example of this.

We as a board wanted to be part of the solution for the homeless veteran problem in Buffalo. It wasn’t like ‘Hey, we have this opportunity. Would you like to give us some money.’ It was, ‘ Hey, let’s go figure out how to solve the problem and we will pay for some of it.’ We like it to be a little more comprehensive.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres

It’s not about the money for the Sabres Foundation. It’s about making a difference that will resonate within the city for a lifetime.

It’s hard to raise the money. It’s very generous to write a check. If you can do more than that you should.

  • Rich Jureller – Director of Community Relations – Buffalo Sabres