Sports sponsorship is nothing new for John Hancock Financial Services, which has been principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon for 26 years and has had previous affiliations with the Olympics and Major League Baseball.
But the company broke new sponsorship ground in 2009, with its first participation in the Best Buddies Challenge Hyannis Port, a charity bike ride that benefits the Best Buddies organization. Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, the nonprofit aims to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
That first year, some 25 riders joined the John Hancock team, raising about $50,000 for the cause. It was a good start, but no one knew where it would go from there. Full speed ahead, as it turns out!
In only its third year, John Hancock’s team has grown to 66 cyclists among the overall field of 1,000 riders. Members of the 2011 team came from 15 different areas of the company, from marketing, to underwriting, to human resources, to customer service. And this year the John Hancock team was both the fastest overall and the most successful at fundraising—contributing more than $153,000 to Best Buddies. It’s all very gratifying for Event Manager Kristine Aristide, whose work on the ride starts long before the big day.
“Having managed the program for three years now, it has become both a professional and personal investment for me to ensure its success,” she says. “Besides being a planner of the overall event, I am a coach, cheerleader, advocate, adviser, and trusted friend in one way or another to each member of this team.”
And if I can interject a personal note, Aristide should add “top-notch recruiter” to that list! While working with me on the November 2010 Corporate Meetings & Incentives cover story about John Hancock and Best Buddies, Aristide promised to be in touch when the 2011 team was forming. True to her word, she had me signed up and psyched up after only a couple of e-mail exchanges. Cyclists can choose to ride the 100-mile course, the 50-mile course, or the 20-mile course, and there’s a 5K run/walk course as well. I chose to ride 50 miles—and right out of the gate I became fast friends and riding partners with a John Hancock employee from the corporate tax department. The benefit of corporate-sponsored sports events in action! My reaction now that I’ve done it? I hope she invites me again—and next time I might try the 100-mile course.
Co-captains Keith Hartstein, executive vice president, John Hancock Mutual Funds, and Janice Barsha, of the company’s brand communications and creative services department, led the John Hancock team again this year. In fact, Hartstein crossed the finish line first, cycling 100 miles in just under five hours. “What a beautiful day to ride, and what a great cause to be riding for,” Hartstein says. “Best Buddies is an organization that helps people who are facing some tough challenges in life to tap into what is uniquely great about themselves and reach their potential.”
Aristide says participants have varied reasons for joining in. “They may have family or friends with intellectual disabilities, they enjoy the physical and mental challenge of completing the ride, or they enjoy the health and wellness, networking, or family bonding aspects of the event.” On the day of the ride, she arrives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston long before the first biker straps on a helmet for the 7:30 a.m. start. “I like to be on site ahead of the riders to ensure everything is in place and to answer questions and support last-minute needs.”
She also is heavily involved after the ride, making sure that the culminating celebration is top-notch, and that John Hancock team members find their assigned tables so they are able to bond and network while enjoying the high-end “lobster bake.” The party also includes name entertainment (in 2011, Grammy-nominated Natasha Bedingfield) plus celebrity guests such as Best Buddies Challenge honorary chairman and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whom Aristide found herself chatting with this year. (“I was a little star-struck,” she admits.)
Inspired by the story? Find out more about Best Buddies and its other charity rides at the organization’s Web site. And visit the John Hancock Financial Services Careers page on Facebook. For every “like,” the company will donate $1 (up to $5,000) to Best Buddies.