Learning Center student invited to sing at Kalamazoo Growlers game

Paul Garrod • news4garrod@vineyardpress.biz
Alex Tate, a student at the Van Buren Intermediate School District’s Bert Goens Learning Center in Lawrence, was surprised by a visit from Porter, the black bear mascot of the Kalamazoo Growlers baseball team, who asked Tate to sing the National Anthem at a Growlers game. Tate, who has a local reputation for performing the anthem, will open the July 22 game at Homer Stryker Field, Kalamazoo.  Courier-Leader photo/Paul Garrod

   LAWRENCE - Alex Tate, a student at the Van Buren Intermediate School District’s Bert Goens Learning Center in Lawrence, recently received a special surprise from the Kalamazoo Growlers baseball team.
   Tate, 25, of Hartford, who has developed a growing, local reputation for singing the National Anthem when asked, was invited to do just that at the beginning of the Growlers’ home game, July 22, at 7:05 p.m. at Homer Stryker Field, Kalamazoo.
   Tate got his modest start when he was asked to sing at Lawrence High School basketball games. He has also performed once for the Kalamazoo Wings at Wings Event Center.
   “Alex is such a great guy,” said Debra Kollar, a VBISD school social worker.
   In addition to spotlighting Tate’s performance, the Growlers will donate a portion of that game’s proceeds to the VBISD Bert Goens Learning Center Playground Fund, a drive that had been spearheaded by Learning Center Principal Janice DiGiovanni, prior to her death April 14.
   DiGiovanni was diagnosed last May with glioblastoma stage 4 - an aggressive form of brain cancer. Principal at the Learning Center for the past  five years, DiGiovanni continued her efforts to see that funds were raised to not only renovate an existing playground, but purchase new equipment to meet the needs of the children, along with a larger area which would include walkways so students in wheelchairs would have easier access to the new equipment.
   Kollar said of DiGiovanni, “She was my boss, first, and we quickly became friends. We worked closely together.”
   DiGiovanni had a goal to raise a total of $150,000 that would oversee the purchase and up-keep of the new equipment. To date, approximately $120,000 has been raised.
   “We’re hopeful that we will meet and exceed that and reach $200,000. That would provide a playground that Janice dreamed of for the students, and also provide funding for future upgrade and upkeep,” said Kollar, playground committee fundraiser co-chairperson.
   The Learning Center opened in 1977 with 36 students. At that time, the playground area contained swings, monkey bars and teeter totters. Currently, the 2,400-square-foot area serves more than 170 students, ages three to 26, who have moderate to severe cognitive and physical disabilities. The playground was upgraded in the late 1980s, and again in 2000.
   In a story about the playground project published last December, DiGiovanni told The Courier-Leader of the proposed 3,500 square-foot area, “This is such an important project to me because in addition to their love of and need for outdoor play and exercise, our students have a range of the most serious physical and cognitive disabilities. Our students will greatly benefit from the new playground equipment and repair of existing equipment.”
   Two ticket options are available online at: growlersbaseball.com. The first is a group grandstand ticket for $15, which includes bleacher ticket and hat. Use promo code: JANICE.
   The second ticket option is a group tailgate for $22, which includes bleacher ticket, hat and five innings of all-you-can-eat ballpark food. Use promo code JANICE TG.
   For tickets and information, contact Steve Salens at (269) 364-6326 or visit www.growlersbaseball.com.

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