TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Tampa Bay Lightning are having a spectacular season, but what's even better than their play on the ice is the team's efforts to improve the community around Amalie Arena and beyond. The Bolts have invested millions of dollars into the Bay Area through the Community Hero Program.
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife Penny came to Tampa in 2010, vowing to bring a world-class organization -- not only making a difference in the sport, but also in their new hometown.
"I get to meet these community heroes... people who are unacclaimed. We get to know them, maybe it will inspire someone. Such tentacles have come out of it. We love it," Vinik said. "It's really been a team effort, on our part, to try to make a difference in our community, and this community has been wonderful supporting what we are doing. We are so thankful."
The Viniks and the Lightning Foundation honor a local hero at every home game, giving them $50,000 to donate to the non-profit charity of their choice. So far, they've given away $11.5 million to more than 400 charities.
Elizabeth Frazier runs the foundation and helps select the heroes.
"The true goal of the Community Hero Program is to get those fans to say, 'I can do something... volunteer in a soup kitchen...' Something they can do to give back," Frazier said.
Jose Valiente is one of the 240 community heroes honored so far by the Lightning.
"I just cannot thank enough, appreciate enough, to Mr. and Mrs. Vinik for their generosity of giving all this tremendous amount of money to all these kind of charities," he said.
The Lightning have the entire Bay Area cheering them on -- as much for what they do off the ice as on.
The Lightning also just announced they will continue the Community Hero Program for another five years, committing at least $10 million.