Fighting without funds

Former MLB All-Star voices need for private donations to key services as state budget impasse drags on

By Matt Williams

Taking life one day at a time can be important advice for a baseball player during the long grind of a 162-game season.

But for former Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, it has a little added meaning. In 2009, Dempster’s daughter, Riley, was born with 22q deletion syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause a variety of health and developmental disorders. About 1 in 2,000 children are affected by 22q, making it second only to Down syndrome in rate of occurrence.

“You can get caught up that this is happening and this tough, but you have to keep your head up,” Dempster said. “Kids are so resilient, and honestly it’s tougher for the parents.”

Dempster will share his story as guest speaker for Rockford MELD’s annual Celebrity Evening from 5:30-9 p.m. Feb. 25 at Giovanni’s Restaurant, 610 Bell School Road.

“It’s important and something that I enjoy doing, sharing my story,” Dempster said. “I talk about the unfortunate circumstances and how to respond to that.”

His daughter’s story is what led him to start the Dempster Family Foundation to raise awareness for 22q and help families going through it.

Dempster said he learned from veteran players early in his career that giving back to the community is an important part of being a professional athlete. He said the Cubs organization sets the example from the top.

“The Ricketts family is so involved with their charities and help people who are less fortunate,” Dempster said. “I try to pass those lessons down to other guys. It just becomes contagious and guys see the results and it turn into this really great thing.”

MELD provides programs and services for young parents and their children, including temporary housing and life and jobs skills training. Karen Tilly, director of development and public relations for MELD, said Dempster was a perfect choice for their annual event because of the Cubs popularity and Dempster’s sense of humor.

Tilly said it’s an important fundraiser for the nonprofit organization.

“This is huge, especially with no funds coming from the state for some of our programs,” she said.

Dempster, now back with Cubs as a special assistant to team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, is excited to see a young Cubs team that many expect to compete for a World Series.

“It’s pretty awesome, and these kids are extremely talented,” Dempster said. “I know how much fun these guys are having especially after how close they came last season.”

Dempster said despite the high expectations for the team, they need to work on one goal at a time.

“You have a checklist,” he said. “You can talk about the World Series, but it starts with the first goal of winning the division. We have the team that can do it.”

Tickets for the event, which includes a silent auction and dinner, are $75 per person or $700 for a table of 10. A VIP meet greet with autographed baseballs is from 5:30-7. Cost is $125 a person or $1,100 for a table.

For more information or to make reservations, go online at or call 815-963-6353 ext. 10.


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