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GI Tickets sending soldiers to games

A fledgling foundation started by Villanova students is providing active military tickets to major pro sports games.

Jack McDonald (left) and foundation colleague Dennis Grace. (Photo courtesy of Courtney Devine)
Jack McDonald (left) and foundation colleague Dennis Grace. (Photo courtesy of Courtney Devine)Read more

AS 70-DEGREE weather finally arrives and area college students make the change from North Face jackets to Vineyard Vines shorts for the sunny end of the semester, a group of Villanova sophomores is bypassing the usual limp to the school year's finish line and doing something meaningful for those who serve their country.

Jack McDonald's idea for the GI Tickets Foundation came about in the summer of 2011 in his native New Providence, N.J. McDonald, a sophomore accounting major, was caddying at a golf course for a Vietnam veteran whose son was serving in the armed forces and on his way back to the United States. The son and some members of his unit were going to attend a Mets game at Citi Field.

Conversing with the vet over those 18 holes, it became clear for McDonald that an experience in this vein eases the transition from deployment to home for those troops and is something that could be done on a wider scale.

McDonald has done just that with the GI Tickets Foundation, the charity he founded to give returning servicemembers tickets to sporting events around the country.

"Instead of sending them to Single A baseball games, we're sending them to Yankees vs. Mets, right behind one of the dugouts," McDonald said. "We want the experience to be really high-end and be a great afternoon for the soldiers."

To get the tickets, GI Tickets has formed partnerships around professional sports, as well as solicited season ticketholders for tickets they don't plan to use and monetary donations.

It has sent troops to Eagles, Sixers, Detroit Pistons, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays games.

"We'll give them maybe three or four [tickets]," McDonald said. "That way they can go with their kids, their spouse, maybe close friends or other guys in the unit, so that way they can be surrounded by people they want to be with."

McDonald, however, hasn't been alone in this endeavor. While his plan for GI Tickets was originally conceived in 2011, it didn't come to full fruition until last fall with the help of friends Dennis Grace and Peter Sollecito, fellow 'Nova sophomores. McDonald originally wanted the project to gain traction his freshman year, but with his walking on to the Villanova track team and Grace walking on to the basketball team, time was limited.

"This past fall, we were studying FMR," Grace said, when asked about the project's breakthrough. "FMR is the hardest class sophomores can take at Villanova in the school of business. It's financial management and reporting. While studying, we were shooting the breeze and Jack was talking about how he used to run a charity, and I said my family is involved with charities.

"Peter said that he's an Eagle Scout. We were both into [the foundation] right away."

Using the principles they've picked up in their finance and accounting courses, the students have figured out the logistics of the foundation, already having raised $45,000 toward tickets for these soldiers. What comes next for this growing charity? Expansion.

"We recognize that we want this to grow and sort of remain a grass-roots campaign throughout the country," McDonald said. "To facilitate that, we're going to start spurring up teams at colleges around the country and have those translate into clubs we would oversee."

That's already occurred at the University of Pennsylvania, where sophomore Kyle Kroeger has formed a new hub for the project, working with professors within the Wharton School of Business to figure out strategies to help improve GI Tickets going forward.

Despite their newfound growth and personal success with their work, the students remain focused on the people they're helping more than anything.

"I wanted to continue the charity, because it's a mission that I truly believed in," Sollecito said. "I have incredible respect for the men and women who sacrifice so much to protect our freedom."

Added McDonald: "Two things that we want to really get across are that we value the human element in everything we do. So when we talk to a donor, we make sure we get to really know them. We also like to a maintain a relationship with the soldier.

"Just having someone to talk to, once these guys get deployed again, means more than just any ticket."

More information on the project and ways to help out can be found online at