When Stephen Esposito is at a restaurant and notices a member of the military, he makes it a habit to pick up the check for the serviceman or woman. This Christmas season, Esposito wants to multiply that generosity by 300.
In the latest charitable effort of Esposito and his Green Oaks family’s organization, Heal Team 6, members of all branches of the military will be able to see the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest for free. That’s because an Esposito-led effort generated 300 donated tickets worth $11,000.
Like most people, Esposito was grateful for the efforts of the military and wanted to find a tangible way to show that appreciation, knowing military pay is less than great for the rank and file personnel.
“They don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “They don’t get to afford the luxuries in life.”
So he decided to seek out a way to entertain personnel for at least a few hours.
But he wanted it to make a community-wide effort. Many other local sponsors came forward to write checks to Citadel to offset the costs. A series of eight separate performances are ongoing throughout December with approximately 40 tickets per show being set aside for military personnel. The theater is at the Lake Forest High School West Campus at 300 S. Waukegan Road
To add in the holiday/festive theme, Esposito convinced a combination of supermarkets and local restaurants to donate food that anybody in the audience those nights may enjoy.
“It’s neat when the civilians get to mingle with the military and the (local people) love it because they can’t wait to shake their hands and thank them for their service,” Esposito said.
A family philanthropic effort
Heal Team 6 — a twist on SEAL Team 6, the unit that took out Osama bin Laden — is a nonprofit organization created by the Esposito family to help generate money and awareness for small charitable organizations.
This effort is the second in three months for Esposito. As a successful wealth manager, Esposito who wants to assist small charities. He is donating the time and money because he wants to give back to the community and do so in an aggressive way.
“Someone has to take a leadership role,” he said. “We decided to do that. If I make it possible for you to donate or help the members of the military or their families, they will do it. But you still need that between the local charities, the local businesses and the local residents. People are eager to give back but we have to be that link.”
USO helps coordinate
While Esposito received some help with the food and the tickets, he brought in the local USO to make sure all branches of the military are represented in the audience.
“You don’t want to do it just for the naval base or just or the army,” he said. “It is very difficult logistically to get through to everybody and coordinate. The USO has 7,000 people in their database and they will coordinate all the people who want (tickets) and their names.”
The USO was very happy to enlist in this effort.
Jill Gayton, the USO of Illinois program manager, noted military people don’t get a lot of time to enjoy entertainment when they are off duty simply because they don’t know the area very well as they are constantly being moved across the country – or deployed across the globe. That makes an opportunity such as this one all the better.
“It is amazing to know how many people want to help out at this time of year,” Gayton said. “What Steven has done is beyond the call of duty and it will be appreciated for years to come.”
According to Gayton, this event will be of particular interest for personnel deployed just to the north.
“One of the benefits of this experience is that it is so close to our naval base at Great Lakes,” she said. “It is much easier for them to get to Lake Forest than it would be to go downtown.”