COLUMBIA—Most people in South Carolina recognize Ray Tanner as the coach of the University of South Carolina baseball team that brought home the national collegiate championship in 2010.
Baseball is Tanner’s job and his passion, but equally important, he says, is a commitment to give back to the community.
In 2005, he and wife Karen founded the Ray Tanner Foundation, www.theraytannerfoundation.org, which is dedicated to raising funds to help sick children, the homeless and others in need in the Midlands.
Since then, the foundation has helped a wide range of organizations, including Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, Oliver Gospel Mission, and The Cooperative Ministry. It also serves area emergency shelters, food banks and programs for homeless families, including those sponsored by St. Peter Church in downtown Columbia.
The Tanners are members of St. Joseph Church and have three children: Gracie, 7, and Maggie and Luke, both 5.
Tanner is a native of North Carolina and a graduate of North Carolina State University, where he served as head coach before taking the job at USC in 1996.
Mrs. Tanner, who grew up in Charleston and graduated from Bishop England High School, said the couple helped out charities around Columbia from the time they arrived. However, she always felt they could be doing something more.
“My motivation for starting the foundation was to reach out in a greater way,” Tanner said. “Karen convinced me that we could reach more people in our community if we were to bring more people together who wanted to help others.”
From the beginning, the foundation has reached out to organizations that help keep needy families together. Mrs. Tanner said the economic downturn dramatically increased the number of Midlands families who needed help with food, utility bills, or making mortgage or rent payments to keep a roof over their heads.
The foundation raises funds through its website and community fundraisers, such as the “Ray Tanner Home Run,” an annual 12K, 5K and Kids’ Fun Run that attracts more than 1,400 participants.
The baseball team’s national championship has increased the foundation’s visibility and attracted support and donations from around the country. Mrs. Tanner recalled one man from out of state who became a fan of the USC team and wanted to participate in the benefit run in October. He signed up through the website, made a donation and then videotaped himself running the same distance in his hometown.
The Tanners want their children to learn early about the importance of giving back to others. They put together Easter baskets to deliver to homeless children, and have attended community events with their parents. Gracie even helped serve food at a meal for the needy.
“Church is a good place to start if you want to help others,” he said. “Also, ask people who are involved in charitable organizations that help others. Conversations will result in answers.”