Denton: OMYF Grants $1 Million to Community

By John Denton
January 20, 2011


ORLANDO – First, came a roar of noise, and then a wave of emotional tears and joy. In such a time of need for the Hope Community Center, Director of Program Development Laura Firtel said the $100,000 grant given by the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation (OMYF) on Wednesday will be one that’s felt by so many for years to come.

The Hope Community Center was one of five charitable organizations that received $100,000 grants at the Amway Center. And in all, $1 million was granted to 19 organizations from three counties in Central Florida by OMYF. The organizations were awarded the grants during a Wednesday morning ceremony at the promenade level of Amway Center and then they were honored at halftime of the Magic-76ers game.

Firtel’s group was among the most boisterous upon receiving its $100,000 award. The downturn in the economy has simultaneously created a climate of more people in need and fewer donations, and Firtel said that the Magic’s six-figure grant will help her organization continue its outreach throughout Central Florida for more than 3,000 kids a year. The Hope Community Center focuses on at-risk middle school and high school students through after-school programs and it has worked with the Magic in the past distributing tickets and with instructional basketball camps.

``It was very emotional for us. People just have no idea what this means to us,’’ Firtel said of her group’s screams, hugs and tears of joy upon the announcement and presentation with Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide. ``We operate on $10- and $15,000 donations and we don’t get $100,000 donations like this. So this is radical and a profound donation that means so much for us. We reach about 3,000 kids a year and this will allow us to continue to provide the services that we already provide and continue our outreach. We’re in an economic climate that is rough, and it’s the perfect storm where the need is greater than ever and the resources aren’t there, so we are so very grateful to the Magic.’’

The $1 million funds for the grants were raised through the OMYF, with a match provided by the McCormick Foundation Fund. The charitable organizations were awarded with a NBA Draft style ceremony with each of them getting signed Magic basketballs. And the seven organizations rewarded with $100,000 grants also received framed Magic jerseys with the number 100 embroidered on them.

The grants focused mostly on improving the lives of children in Orlando and Central Florida. The Foundation for Orange, Seminole and Osceola County Schools were all granted $20,000. The Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida and Boys Town of Central Florida both got $50,000 grants for after-school and summer programs. And the Coalition for the Homeless, a place where the Magic have served hot Thanksgiving meals for more than a decade, was the recipient of $42,000 for its Children’s Services Program.

Others such as the Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando ($50,000), The Harbor House of Central Florida ($100,000), The Adult Literacy League ($30,000) and the Orlando Ballet’s Steps Program ($50,000) were awarded to assist their family programs.

Magic President Alex Martins said it has been a goal of the organization for some time to boost its level of giving back to $1 million. And he said the cheers and tears from Wednesday helped him realize the impact that the Magic are making throughout communities in Orlando and Central Florida.

``It actually brought a tear to my eye at one point because it does means so much to them,’’ Martins said. ``It’s gratifying to us that not only is it appreciated, but it’s also impactful. When they are that emotional about it they need the funds and they do great work. We’d love to be able to support every organization, but over the years we’ve supported more than 300. But in this particular year, to be able to support almost 20 organizations and give grants equaling $1 million, it’s very gratifying.’’

Vander Weide, who made the presentations of the awards, said that the Magic’s willingness to give is proof that the franchise is dedicated to being an integral part of the Central Florida community.

``As we were walking into this new Amway Center we talked about continuing to be a part of the fabric of this community. While winning basketball games usually rallies communities in crisis, the offshoot is the OMYF and the things that we do with our players for our community,’’ Vander Weide said. ``To get back up to that $1 million in giving that was important to us.

``There were 19 grant recipients who went from hooting and hollering to tears of joy,’’ Vander Weide continued. ``And it’s not just about the $100,000 grants; the $28,000 to a smaller organization might be even more impactful. So it’s a storyline that is both big and little and we’re happy to be a part of it all.’’

Several of the organizations that received grants on Wednesday target fighting childhood obesity in Central Florida. Florida Hospital for Children received a $100,000 grant to aid its Healthy 100 program for kids. And the Hebni Nutrition Consultants got a $35,000 gift to assist its fight against diet-related diseases, specifically in African-American children.

``When you look at the next generation we have a lot of work to. They are considered to be the invincible generation, but when you see kids suffering from Type II Diabetes at ages 10 and 12, it’s our responsibility to teach that generation a healthier way,’’ said Roniece Weaver, the director of Hebni Nutrition Consultants. ``The Magic are connected to this community. They have the pulse of the issues of this city and they are doing something great about it.’’

Martins said the Magic are all about winning the floor and winning in the community. He called Wednesday ``one of my favorite days of the year,’’ because the franchise is helping to support those who support the Magic.

``Our mission statement is to be World Champions on and off the court while delivering legendary moments every step of the way,’’ Martins said. ``The off the court stuff is just as important of on the court. We haven’t achieved our mission (of a championship) yet on either side. But we believe we’ve made an impact on an off the court and we’ll keep striving to reach that ultimate goal.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.