By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Ponte Vedra High School junior Corey Udell met two families with missing children in 2017 during a charity event and found that no words of comfort seemed adequate. The experience inspired him to launch the BairFind Club his sophomore year — modeled after the BairFind Foundation, a national organization that places missing children signs at sporting events to get the public involved in the search.
“It was heartbreaking to meet these families,” said Udell, also a Ponte Vedra High School baseball player.
Udell met the families while volunteering at the “Enchanted Christmas Village,” an event held in Nocatee with proceeds going to the BairFind Foundation. Dennis Bair, Bairfind founder/CEO and Udell’s middle school baseball coach, invited Udell to the event.
“Corey Udell is an outstanding young man and all of his BairFind Club members are right there with him. They have taken it upon themselves to generate leads and tips in the search for Florida’s missing kids, and I cannot think of a higher calling than that,” said Bair. “Corey and his friends give us hope not only that the missing kids they feature will be found, but that there are good people and leaders among our next generation of youth.”
Bair is a former minor league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and partners with Minor League Baseball to place photos of missing children at stadiums across the country at no cost to the families. According to the BairFind Foundation website, 428 missing children were safely located out of the profiles featured by BairFind. Currently, there are signs in 152 baseball and basketball stadiums, generating 35 million views of missing child photos, according to the Jacksonville-based BairFind Foundation.
Udell takes a similar approach by placing his banner sign, which features the photos and bios of eight missing children, in hallways, classrooms and other high traffic areas. According to Udell, the missing children are mostly local or they could be from other areas of the state if there is reason to believe that they might be in St. Johns County.
When the club first formed, Udell said 80 students signed up immediately. Udell credits the professional BairFind sign that was displayed at his club fair booth with one “Found” sticker on it. Udell raised $200 for the sign by hosting a youth summer baseball camp prior to his sophomore year.
“It was very eye-catching, and it was very real,” said Udell. “It reminded everyone that this is real life. This is not like a game or a simulator. Putting a found sticker on the sign is the whole reason to have the club.”
Now the BairFind Club consists of 100 members and includes two more high schools — Nease and Titusville. And the club has organized a Car and Truck Show fundraiser on Saturday, April 4, from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m to benefit the BairFind Foundation, with a portion of the purchases supporting the PVHS BairFind Club and its efforts. Live music will be performed from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. and the suggested donation is the purchase of one drawing ticket per person. The drawing tickets for prizes will be sold at the event, $5 per ticket or $20 for five tickets.
Trasca & Co Eatery, Christy’s Dream and Mulligan’s Pub are all sponsors of the event. Udell said he is especially grateful to the main event sponsor, Trasca, for its incredible support and for providing the live music.
Udell is also looking for sponsors to donate $100 – $200 so that the club can buy BairFind silicone bracelets to distribute to those purchasing a drawing ticket at the event. In addition, drawing ticket holders will receive a voting slip to vote on their favorite car and truck.
In addition to the fundraiser, Udell is also training younger club members to take over once he graduates. His goal is to encourage more high schools to start a BairFind Club and to join forces for the cause. Udell credits the work of his fellow club members and his family for his ability to balance academics, baseball and club duties.
Holly Udell, Corey’s mother, said when Corey organized the youth baseball camp the summer before his sophomore year to pay for the sign, the family never thought the BairFind Club would expand so quickly.
“The upcoming truck and car show fundraiser on April 4 will be a tremendous accomplishment for the club. We are grateful to Dennis Bair for founding this organization and that Corey can support something so meaningful,” said Holly Udell. “Watching Corey place a found sticker on his sign gives me goosebumps and is the best reward for all of his hard work.”
Visit BairFind.org for more information about the fundraising event or to donate.
Photo courtesy Corey Udell
BairFind Charity Night with baseball team