Jack McDonald’s conversation several years ago with a close friend, a veteran, changed his life.
His friend, Bill Hoke, whose son was an active duty service member at the time, told McDonald how meaningful a trip to a New York Mets game was to his son when he returned home from deployment.
So McDonald, then a high school junior, became determined to help more troops.
McDonald went on to Villanova University in Pennsylvania and in 2011 founded the G.I. Tickets Foundation, a student-run non-profit organization that sends active duty members of the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force – along with their families – to professional sporting events as way to thank them for their service.
“We love letting the soldiers know that they are appreciated,” said Billy Golden, an incoming senior at Villanova and vice president of G.I. Tickets. “Our goal is to help the soldiers through the transition process of returning home through sports.”
G.I. Tickets, which is affiliated with the Catholic university, has sent more than 700 troops to games and raised at least $130,000 in donations.
"We love getting feedback from soldiers saying they had a great experience at a game," Golden said.
The group has partnered with the New Jersey Devils to help bring troops to a game on Veteran’s Day. The troops that attended were leaving later that week for a tour in the Middle East.
With the NFL, NHL, and NBA seasons approaching, G.I. Tickets is ramping up its efforts to expand its presence on campus.
The organization is looking to host events with guest speakers and is interested in sponsoring a 5K.
When season ticket holders or companies express interest in donating unused tickets, G.I. Tickets coordinates with public affairs offices at military bases along the East Coast to help find a match.
Brooks Jalbert, current president of G.I. Tickets, and his team members, have started to recruit future underclassmen that will continue the tradition of helping active duty troops enjoy a sports experience.
As a non-profit organization, G.I. Tickets has worked with the New Jersey Devils, New York Mets and Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, among other teams. Other partners of theirs include C&J Bus Lines, Academy Bus Lines, and Legg Mason.