Alfonso Ribeiro to play in 2018 Principal Charity Classic Pro-Am

The Principal Charity Classic®, presented by Wells Fargo, today announced actor and comedian Alfonso Ribeiro has joined the field for the 2018 Principal Charity Classic Pro-Am.

Ribeiro, a passionate golf fan and brand ambassador of the PGA TOUR Champions, will play in the Prairie Meadows Pro-Am on Wednesday, June 6, at historic Wakonda Club in Des Moines.

Ribeiro, 46, is perhaps best known for his role as Carlton Banks on the hit TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” as well as his work on the sitcom “Silver Spoons.” He won season 19 of “Dancing with the Stars” and currently hosts “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

A low-handicap golfer, Ribeiro is a frequent celebrity Pro-Am participant. This year marks his first appearance at the Principal Charity Classic – but far from his first trip to the state. Ribeiro’s wife, Angela (Unkrich) Ribeiro, is a native of Swedesburg, Iowa.

Getting to know…Nick Cecere, Principal Charity Classic board president

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter

Nick Cecere grew up in Utica, N.Y., and started his professional career in upstate New York before his job took him to California. He came to Des Moines to work for Principal in 1996 and is now a senior vice president in charge of distribution. In August 2017, the former professional hockey player was named president of the Principal Charity Classic board of directors.

RB:  How has hockey played a role in your life?

NC: I played college hockey at Elmira College. I left after my junior year to pursue professional hockey. I played two years and at the same time, worked on completing my degree (in economics from Utica College) during the summers. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I was going to play in the National Hockey League. But I had to get it out of my system.

RB: You’re still involved with the sport as a coaching director for the Midwest Amateur Hockey Association, an affiliate of USA Hockey. Why do you do that?

NC: That’s my give-back to the sport. Both of my sons played (NCAA) Division I hockey. Nick played at Niagara, and Garrett just finished at Northeastern. Both were captains of their teams. We’re hoping Garrett lands someplace in the American Hockey League next year. I was hoping the Iowa Wild here in Des Moines would give him a shot. And they still might.

RB: What is your favorite sports memory?

NC: This past February, Garrett’s team won the Beanpot Tournament in Boston. It had been 30 years since Northeastern had won that event. It was the most exhilarating experience, like winning a World Series.

RB: Is there a sports figure you admire most?

NC: Wayne Gretzky, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because he was good at hockey. It was the way he handled himself. He always had poise and character and confidence, and he was a guy who never big-timed anybody. I would also say Mario Lemieux. Probably the two best hockey players ever. I know both of them, and they’re the nicest people in the world. We don’t talk about hockey. We talk about our kids.

RB: What do you enjoy the most about Des Moines?

NC: Hands down, it’s the people. Great people. Friendly, honest. And our greatest friends are here. My wife, Barb, moved to Des Moines sight unseen. We love it here.

RB: Do you play much golf?

NC: I do. My golf swing is a hockey swing. From a driving perspective, I can hit the ball a long way with a short swing. Sometimes I’ll hit my 3-wood because I can hit it straighter. I play at Wakonda Club, probably 10 to 12 times a year.

RB: You also play lot of business golf. Do you find it true that you learn a lot about a person during a round of golf?

NC: Vey much so. I like to listen. I ask questions about people as a sales person. If people are going to buy something from you, they have to trust you. And if you’re spending four hours with a person on a golf course, you get to know them. You ask about their family and get them to talk about things that are important to them. I listen to their story. That’s the fun part about it.

RB: How did you first get involved with the Principal Charity Classic?

NC: I first got involved through the tournament’s Pro-Am, which is a great opportunity to bring business customers out to the course and have them play a round with a PGA TOUR Champions golfer. It’s an experience they never forget. And I’ve done that for about 10 years now. Last January, (Principal CEO) Dan Houston and (Principal CMO) Beth Brady asked me to join the tournament’s board of directors. And I became board president in August.

RB: You said it’s like a full-time job, but what are the rewards?

NC: A recent experience comes to mind. Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa is one of our Tournament Charity Partners, and they lead a program that donates specialized bikes to children with disabilities, as well as traditional bikes to children in need. In March, I was part of a Variety bike donation to a great family that lives in a small town near Iowa City. Their 10-year-old son, Landon, has faced a lot of challenges since birth. And Variety had customized a bike just for him. When his little brother rode it out to surprise him, his face just lit up. It was priceless. A few weeks later, Landon’s parents sent photos of the brothers riding bikes near their home. They’d never been able to do that together before.

RB: Was it an adjustment, stepping up to be the president of the board?

NC: I don’t get nervous about a lot of things. But I can tell you, when they said, “You’re going to be chairman of the board of this thing,” I started to sweat a little bit. Because when you look at the quality of leadership in that room, from Dan Houston to Suku Radia to Rich Willis – I could go right down the line. Everybody in that room is a mover and a shaker. And it’s intimidating.

RB: What is one of the first things you did?

NC: I scheduled a meeting with every single person on the board. I spent at least an hour with each of them. And I took my notebook with me, like a good salesman, and I asked a lot of questions.

RB: What kind of questions did you ask?

NC: I asked them all three questions. On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate this tournament from an event perspective? What do we need to do better? And what are we doing that’s working? I wanted to see if there was anyone on the board who didn’t want to be there. And every single one of them said, “Nick, I’ll do whatever you ask me to.” Everyone was committed to the tournament and to what it does for the community.

RB: As president of the board, what is one of your most important goals?

NC: One of my goals is to ensure that Principal isn’t just footing the bill for the tournament and putting in all the legwork behind the scenes. Same with Wells Fargo, our great presenting sponsor. We always want to get other people involved, other local leaders and businesses. This is a true community event – everyone is welcome and encouraged to get involved, in whatever capacity they can. The tournament currently has more than 350 sponsors, from small, family-owned businesses to large corporations. Hundreds of volunteers join us from local partners each year. And we’re really proud of that engagement. We’re excited to keep building on it.

Last year, the Principal Charity Classic raised a record amount for Iowa children’s charities. More than $3.5 million in a single year. Incredible. And the tournament has now raised more than $13 million since Principal became title sponsor in 2007. That level of giving wouldn’t be possible without community engagement and a shared belief in what the tournament is all about. As Dan Houston always says, “Remember, it’s about the kids.”

RB: Do you feel this event improves the image of Des Moines?

NC: All my friends, my mom, my in-laws back on the East Coast watch the Principal Charity Classic on the Golf Channel, and they say, “What a great town you have.” People here don’t necessarily realize the exposure our community gets as a result of this tournament. And that’s really important. Because it’s not only about helping kids. It’s about growing our community and being part of something special here.

RB: Would you say volunteers are an important part of the tournament?

NC: Absolutely. Think about 1,200 volunteers. That’s how many it takes to run the tournament. It’s a lot of people who volunteer their time – and not all the jobs are glamorous. They choose to give back at the Principal Charity Classic because they believe in the event and what it does for the community. They work hard and make every day fun. We’re so appreciative of their support.

RB: Is one of the challenges to bring new and different things to the fan experience?

NC: It can’t be déjà vu all over again. You’ve got to spice it up a little bit. When fans walk out of the gates, I want them to say to themselves, “That was a lot of fun. We got to watch some great golf together, right here in our community, and it was all for a good cause. We’re coming back next year.”

Spotlight on…Birdies For Charity

Matt Moeckl has been with Wildwood Hills Ranch of Iowa since its inception in 2001.

Located in St. Charles, the ranch welcomes boys and girls ages 8-18. Most arrive from places of abuse and neglect.

Wildwood offers structure and a chance to be successful through a 10-year leadership program.

“We’re helping kids develop spiritually as leaders and with life skills,” said Moeckl, Wildwood’s executive director. “The goal at the end of the 10-year commitment we make with our students is to have a clean hand-off to a two-year school, a four-year school, or directly to a career.”

Moeckl said his organization’s affiliation with the Principal Charity Classic and its Birdies For Charity program has been an incredible gift.

“The funds we raise help us provide scholarships for more kids to come through our life-changing programs,” Moeckl said.

How it works.

Since Principal became title sponsor of the Principal Charity Classic in 2007, the tournament has raised more than $13 million for Iowa children’s charities – including a record $3,581,427 last year.

More than one-third of this total was generated through the tournament’s Birdies For Charity program, which gives Iowa non-profits with programming for children, as well as K-12 schools, a unique and risk-free opportunity to raise additional funds year-round.

Participating organizations and schools ask for donations from their supporters based on the number of birdies made by PGA TOUR Champions players during the Principal Charity Classic – for example, 10 cents per birdie.

Or supporters can make a one-time flat donation of any amount, at any time, throughout the year.

Participating organizations then receive 100% of every donation they collect, PLUS a 10% match thanks to the generous support of Sammons Financial Group and Wells Fargo.

More than 100 non-profits and schools across Iowa currently participate in the program – and that number continues to grow each year.

Funding a second chance.

Anawim Housing has been giving citizens a second chance since 1987. A local leader in affordable housing, its mission is to build homes, hope and community.

“People don’t realize how large we really are,” said Tiffany King, Anawim’s director of advancement. “We own and manage more than 1,100 households in the Des Moines area, so more than 2,000 people call Anawim home.”

And Anawim’s mission is twofold.

“We started, over 30 years ago, providing safe and affordable housing for people who just needed it,” King said. “It’s not subsidized; it’s just a safe and affordable place to live. And then about 20 years ago, we started permanent supportive housing programs.”

Anawim does get funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but raises additional money because it is required to have a match – which Birdies For Charity helps fulfill.

Kate Rolfes, Anawim’s marketing and communication manager, said 64 percent of Anawim households are single mother-led, and more than 86 percent of Anawim units have at least once child living in them.

With the exception of the HUD-VASH program, which helps homeless veterans and their families sustain permanent housing, 88 percent of permanent supportive housing in Polk County is provided by Anawim Housing.

“These are individuals who are chronically homeless or families who are homeless living in their cars,” King said. “They come out and live at a unit that we lease and sublet to them. And it’s a chance for them to start fresh.

“We connect them to services. And now we have staff that are also case managers and working with these individuals to get back on their feet, reaching goals of self-sufficiency.”

Supporting dreams.

The Dream Team is a five-month program that uses cycling as a vehicle for teenagers to build relationships, achieve personal goals and learn from adult mentors.

“Our primary mission is to help youth in the Des Moines area learn how to achieve goals to better themselves,” said Scott Garner, assistant director of RAGBRAI and a member of the Dream Team’s leadership board.

The program, aimed at boys and girls 13-18 years old, is goal-driven. It starts in February with indoor training at the Wellmark YMCA and ends at the Mississippi River with the completion of RAGBRAI.

In between, participants log 1,000 miles of training. They also receive a bike, jerseys, a water bottle, bike shorts and t-shirts that they get to keep at the completion of the program.

The Dream Team is a grassroots organization, traditionally funded by the cycling community. But being part of Birdies for Charity has expanded the program’s reach.

“Birdies For Charity has opened up and introduced the program to a whole new group of people who aren’t necessarily cyclists but who just want to help youth in the Des Moines area,” Garner said.  “They may not be cyclists or know anything about RAGBRAI, but they enjoy seeing kids have success.”

Creating a ripple effect.

Back at Wildwood Hills Ranch, Moeckl can cite countless examples of success stories.

“There’s one young man who we’ve helped since he was 8 years old,” Moeckl said. “He used to be our best fighter. His mom had 16 brothers and sisters, and they had eight or nine kids apiece, and every male in his family had dropped out of high school by age 17. Many were in prison – until him.

“Now he’s set a new standard as the first kid in his family history to graduate from high school.”

The young man’s two sisters and a brother, as well as cousins, have since graduated from high school.

“If we can impact even one kid, a lot of times there’s a ripple effect,” Moeckl said.

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter