Foundation Friday : Mario Lemieux Foundation

Mario Lemieux is one of the most recognizable players in the history of the NHL. He has been and will always be a Pittsburgh Penguin. As a player and an owner Lemieux has three Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He holds multiple NHL records. Some of which include most goals per period (4), only player to score 30+ power-play goals in two different seasons, and shorthanded goals in a season (13). Lemieux scored 690 goals over the course of 915 career games, all of which were with the Pittsburgh Penguins. By the end of his playing career Lemieux was dubbed “The Magnificent One” because of the magical way he played the game of hockey.

However, I like to call Lemieux “The Magnificent One” based on the things he does for the community through his foundation.

Mario Lemieux Blood Cancer Center

Lemieux has been cancer free for twenty years and hopes more people will have the same success. Knowing what he went through for many years as a patient Lemieux created a cancer center where you can see your doctor and get your blood work done in the same trip.

The Mario Lemieux Blood Cancer Center is a 24,000 square foot outpatient cancer center located at the Holman Cancer Center. It was designed to make the patient feel more comfortable with the healing process. There are no more awkward silences and conversations in the waiting room because there is no waiting room. A patient is taken directly to their room once they sign in.

It’s like big brother. They know where you are and where the doctor is.

  • Nancy Angus; Executive Director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation

There is an outdoor atrium at the center where patients and their family members can go to catch their breath, gather their thoughts, and take a break from the situation. The floor is smooth so you can take your IV pole outside without problem. Nathalie Lemieux even made sure there was a putting green in the atrium so the patients would have something interactive to do.

Playroom Project

Mother’s Day is supposed to be a joyous occasion for everyone involved. You’re supposed to spend the day with your family surrounded by love and laughter. In 1996, the Lemieux family had a different scenario on Mother’s Day.

Austin Lemieux was born premature and spent 71 days in the NICU. Mother’s Day happened to fall during that time. Imagine having to spend such a joyous day with your child in a sterile environment surrounded by nurses, doctors, and tubes. Now take it one step further and imagine only getting to see your sick child for fifteen minutes on Mother’s Day.

At the time Mario and Nathalie Lemieux also had two toddler girls they needed to keep an eye on. They didn’t have family nearby or a nanny to watch the girls. Luckily, the nurses offered to help the Lemieux’s out for fifteen minutes or else they wouldn’t of been able to spend any time with Austin on their first Mother’s Day with him.

Unfortunately, this scenario is a common one for parents with a sick child. Recognizing this Nathalie turned to Mario on the ride home and said “We have to do something for young parents like us.” From this heartwrenching situation the Playroom Project was born.

It’s all about helping other parents. The sick kid is good. The sick kid is taken care of. The siblings are always forgotten about. The poor mom and dad are torn between their well kids and their super sick child.

  • Nancy Angus; Executive Director of the Mario Lemieux Foudation

The first playroom opened in 2000 at the Pittsburgh Children’s Center and is focused on siblings of sick children. The sibling center is staffed and ready with activities for the well children to enjoy. There are toys, beads of courage, and a workbook catered to what their sick sibling is going through (ie. transplant, cancer). The staff even takes time to talk to the sibling about what their feeling and how this is effecting their life. The sibling center gives the well child a chance to feel like they are part of the process and not just an after thought.

On the 6th floor the Lemieux’s built a medical free zone for the sick kids called Austin’s Playroom. It’s a place for sick kids to get out of their room and a get a much needed breather from the situation at hand. The rooms are brightly colored, full of toys, and have the same exact sand table Austin had when he was a child. They even have an American Doll sized MRI machine toy so they can help calm the fears of a child who has to get an MRI.

Fast forward to fifteen years later, the Mario Lemieux Foundation is getting read to open their 32nd playroom and have three more in the works. The playroom, opening in the middle of October, will be at Camp Lejeune.

This will be the third military playroom in the program. There is one located at Walter Reed Military in Bethesda and another at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.

Randy Hillier’s wife, Heather, came to us and asked if we considered doing military playrooms. We were introduced to some folks at the Navy. One thing led to another and we were connected with the right people.

  • Nancy Angus; Executive Director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation

Make Room For Kids

Make Room For Kids was inspired by a local Pittsburgh blogger by the name of Virginia Montanez. Almost seven years ago Montanez was trying to win a Microsoft contest that would buy gaming units for Children’s Hospital. Unfortunately, she was losing with no hope of winning in sight.

When all hope seemed lost one of Montanez’ readers wrote in saying “My husband works for Microsoft. I want you to contact me.” Montanez was shocked and immediately called Nancy Angus, the Executive Director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, to help make the phone call. Angus called the woman and they have had the best partnership since.

Thanks to Montanez and the partnership with Microsoft that ensued a different floor of the Pittsburgh Children’s Center gets a technology upgrade every April. Each room on that floor is outfitted with it’s own Xbox. A total of 200 single unit Xboxes have been installed at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital.

Angus shared with me one of her favorite moments from the installs this past year involving a 16-year old patient receiving dialysis that I would like to share with you.

 She’s been in there all day long getting dialysis. We ask if she wants to play Xbox and she says “ok”. One of the local tv reporters who was there doing a story said she’d play her. The reporter scores on herself and you wouldn’t believe the smile that came across this girl’s face. It was so nice to see this girl so jazzed. It’s those days and those moments that make it worth it. All this stuff that we do and all the time we spend makes a big difference.

  • Nancy Angus; Executive Director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation

Children’s Family Home

This past September the foundation gave a million dollars to renovate the Children’s Family Home of Pittsburgh.

The Family Home is for transitional infant care. They take care of babies that are not sick enough to be in the hospital but not healthy enough to go home. It’s like a bridge.

  • Nancy Angus; Executive Director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation

While at the Children’s Family Home nurses teach parents how to take care of their child once they bring them home. This enables the parent to be confident in their ability to take care of their child with special needs.

There are now eight sleeping rooms in the Children’s Family House which allows parents to stay and be with their babies during the night.

How These Projects Are Funded

Each of these projects are not only funded by many generous donors but also by different events which take place during the year. There are 4 main events which take place every year to raise money for the foundation : Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational, Charity Bag Night, Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp, and the Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6k Run.

Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational

The Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational initially was a public golf event a part of the Celebrity Players Tour. There were skyboxes and stands for fans to watch the event take place. During the inaugural year, 1998, the event brought in over $500,000. When 2006 rolled around the foundation decided to make the golf invitational a private event. Over $12 million dollars has been raised for the foundation through this event.

YouTube player

Charity Bag Night

Once a year the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Mario Lemiuex Foundation hold a charity bag night in the arena. Bags are either $250 or $1,000 and are filled with Penguins themed items. Each $1,000 bag has a player signed jersey and a signed puck in it. Some of the $250 bags have a surprise signed jersey as well.

This past year the bags sold out before the end of the third and a half a million dollars per foundation was made.

Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp

The Mario Lemiuex Fantasy Hockey Camp is a week long NHL hockey experience. The attendees travel together, eat together, and practice together just like a normal NHL team. Each team has a celebrity captain who played for the Penguins organization in the past.

They also get a chance to see Pittsburgh from a different point of view. Last year the camp attendees were taken on a tour of PNC park that ended with a meeting with the President of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Other years have included a trip to the casino and getting to meet Breaking Bad’s Bill Burr.

The camp has been such a huge success that out of 66 attendees 55 are returners.

YouTube player

Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6k Run

Every year the Pens Foundation and Mario Lemiuex Foundation host a 6.6k run to kick off the season. The race starts at 5th avenue in front of the arena with Lemiuex firing off the starting gun. Participants run over two bridges and through one tunnel. They end on the other side of the arena and Dan Potash of Root TV announces their names and times. Afterwards race participants are allowed to go into the Penguins closed practice.

If you’re going to the 6.6k run this year be sure to wish Lemieux a happy birthday. He turns the big 5-0 the next day.