"Ever since I was little, I've always had a real soft spot for kids who have a disability," McLaughlin said. "That's especially true now as a parent of four, but even before I had kids I always felt I was really lucky. I'm healthy. I wanted to do something."
And so McLaughlin showed up at the door of the Special Education Foundation, not to ask how he could help, but to inform them of what he already decided he would do. It would be a golf tournament, McLaughlin explained. He would plan it. He would secure the sponsors. And he would use his platform as a means for promotion.
His only request was that every dollar raised through the event be directed back to special needs children. They agreed, and McLaughlin fulfilled his promise.
Last month, Norwood Hills Country Club hosted the 14th annual Dan McLaughlin Golf Tournament, which has grown to be SEF's largest annual fundraiser. This year, more than $300,000 was raised for the organization, which then turns around and disperses that money to families who apply for assistance.
Since the event's inception, nearly $3 million has been raised to benefit special needs students.
"Dan pours his heart and his soul into this tournament," said Diane Buhr, executive director of SEF. "I had no idea that it would become so big. Dan has a very big heart, and these students really touch him. We are very, very fortunate to have his involvement and participation in what we do."
It is the goal of SEF to step in and assist where the tax dollars stop. And so those donations have been used to purchase items like hearing aids, eye glasses, wheelchairs and other equipment for those with physical disabilities. It has covered the cost of summer camp, supplied music teachers with instruments and funded college scholarships. It's also helped support a grant program that assists teachers with the funding they need for projects in their classrooms.
Many of the students who benefit from the donations are present at the golf outing, as are numerous teachers from the Special School District of St. Louis County. Their presence puts a face to the greater mission.
"I think I learned this from watching Jack Buck, but I always said if I can get in a position to where I have a little notoriety and can maybe get in doors that you normally couldn't get in, that I wanted to do something to make a difference," McLaughlin said. "Did I ever think it would get to this level? No."
The annual event, which produces approximately half the donations SEF receives annually, features not only a golf tournament, but an evening dinner and auction. The Cardinals are one of the most generous sponsors and donate several of the items and experiences that are auctioned off.
McLaughlin's involvement with special needs children spans well beyond the once-a-year event, too. He'll stop by schools to participate in reading programs and has hosted various events to raise additional funding for SEF. And along the way, he'll hear stories from parents whose children's lives were changed because of his efforts.
That, he says, is the payoff.
"I think I actually get more out of it than they do," McLaughlin said. "It sounds self-serving, but you are making a difference with something. You're helping people who often don't really have a voice or someone who can help. These kids are so sweet, and if this is something that can give them a better chance at life or give them some confidence, then it's all worth it. It's a ton of work, but it's worth it."