Updated: February 24, 2021 05:58 PM
Created: February 24, 2021 01:06 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — From the hardwood to the hard work of being a community leader. That is the Eric Devendorf of today. Once a brash baller for the Syracuse University basketball team with the talent to back it up, Devendorf had a swagger that teammates loved and opposing fans despised. Now, with a little gray in his beard, Devendorf is using the platform SU hoops gave him to give back.
"Whoever's struggling, whoever needs help, we're here to try to make it better," he said during a recent Zoom interview.
Watching as COVID-19 restrictions devastated small businesses in Syracuse, Devendorf started a GoFundMe campaign to help.
"These small businesses are what brings our community together and really what makes our community," Devendorf said. "So when they're strong, we're all strong.
He raised about $80,000 in the first initiative and distributed funds to 18 small businesses. Now, he's set his sights on having an even bigger impact.
"A few people reached out to me and wanted to take it to another level, and that's when we formed CNY Cares," Devendorf said.
Central New York Cares is the name of the official 501c3 charity started last week by Devendorf. He says their goal is to raise $5 million.
"I know there's a lot of places that need it," Devendorf said. "Even as things are starting to come back after-effects, I know the after-effects are still going to be lingering. So, we're trying to do all we can to help out."
CNY Cares has already banked $350,000 in donations. He's extended the grant program to include struggling businesses in the Rochester area.
"Pretty lucky to have a lot of people come around and want to support this," Devendorf said. "I mean, we think it's a worthy cause, and the first round really helped out, and I think this second round will help out even more -- not only Syracuse but Rochester as well."
He's turned to another SU hoops star, Rochester's John Wallace, who joined the board of CNY Cares.
"We wanted to get John on board," Devendorf said. "I gave him a call, and he was for it right away."
Businesses in need of assistance can fill out an application on the CNY Cares website, and grants will be handed out on a rolling basis.
News10NBC's Brett Davidsen: "You know the satisfaction of hitting a game-winning shot or making a clutch free throw. How does this feeling of helping these struggling businesses compare to something like that?"
Eric Devendorf: "It's better. Much better. There's a lot of people out here struggling. A lot of people need things we take for granted, and it's better than a game-winning shot or making a great pass. This is life."
Learn more about CNY Cares here.
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