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History of reaching out to others

Midwest Sports Academy is no stranger to spreading Christmas cheer to those in need. On November 17, 2013, one of the most violent tornado outbreaks in state history rocked central Illinois. No town was hit harder than Washington, Illinois. Tornadoes leveled nearly one-fourth of this close-knit community's homes and businesses, leaving thousands of people's lives devastated.

As he watched TV reports showing the tornadoes' massive destruction, Cook decided he had to help. For the last 25 years, Cook has dedicated his career to providing resources, mentoring and peer mediation to kids and teens, most recently by founding the Midwest Sports Academy in suburban Huntley. Serving kids ages 9 to 16 in the suburbs and the Rockford area, the non-profit organization provides a supportive environment that teaches youth how to build a strong foundation for their future.

"I felt moved to do whatever I could to reach out to them," Cook said. "I'm passionate about making a difference in people's lives, primarily the lives of children. I wanted to extend a helping hand to them, especially at Christmastime."

Cook’s Midwest Sports Academy mobilized nearly a dozen organizations to support a relief effort for Washington residents. Individuals, families and businesses dropped off donations at South Elgin High School, The Einstein Academy of Elgin and Pro Fusion in Geneva. The humanitarian drive generated hundreds of blankets, toiletries, medicine and other critical supplies for needy families. The outpouring of generosity required a large moving truck to haul the necessities downstate. Students from the Midwest Sports Academy joined Cook and his staff in loading the truck with the donated items.

"Students, families, local business owners – so many folks gave generously to the drive. It was an honor to be part of it," Cook said.

Cook and Tory Gum arrived in Washington November 27 to present the donations. The volume of supplies that donors gave to victims touched the townspeople so deeply that the Warehouse in Washington asked Cook if the Midwest Sports Academy could lead a Christmas toy drive for children in Washington victimized by the tornadoes.

"There was no way I could tell them no. How could anyone say no to such a significant need?" Cook said.

The Einstein Academy, South Elgin High School and Pro Fusion agreed to serve again as drop-off centers. The same organizations that supported the relief effort enthusiastically signed on to join the toy drive, including the South Elgin Police Department, Wells Fargo Advisory, PepsiCo, T's N More and the McHenry Community College women's basketball program.

The tornado relief toy drive resulted in hundreds of donations. Cook and a volunteer drove another moving truck to Washington in December 2013 to deliver the toys.

"This experience blessed everyone who contributed to the toy drive and relief effort as much as it blessed the families in Washington," Cook said. "Donating much-needed gifts helped make the holiday season a little more joyful for victims of the tornadoes."




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