OMYF Assists 25 Central Florida Organizations with Checks Totaling $600,000

By John Denton
Jan. 22, 2014

ORLANDO – The emotion inside of her swelling throughout Wednesday’s Orlando Magic Youth Fund event, Karen Willis was able to allow a screeching yelp to erupt out of her mouth when the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County’s name was finally called.

Willis’ raw, unfiltered emotion poured out for a couple of reasons on Wednesday at the Amway Center. First, her organization was the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the OMYF, a McCormick Foundation Fund. But she was also moved nearly to tears because she was well aware of just how much of a difference the Magic’s money could make in the lives of so many children in Orange County.

``It was just very exciting,’’ said Willis, the CEO of the Early Learning Coalition, referring to her show of emotion. ``We were really hoping, but this is just so wonderful what the Magic have done for us. This (grant) means wonderful things for the youngest kids in our community.’’

Willis was hardly the only person emotional on Wednesday when the OMYF held a draft-style ceremony to award $600,000 in grants to 25 non-profit organizations based throughout Central Florida. The 25 grantees were a nod to the Magic’s year-long celebration of its 25th Anniversary Season. Wednesday’s giving raises the Magic’s giving to more than $3.8 million over the past four years and to $18 million in the past 22 years.

``I’m really proud of what the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation has been able to do and the commitment that they have to Central Florida and so many organizations,’’ said Magic chairman Dan DeVos, who beamed with pride that the organization is able to fulfill the wishes of his father, legendary Magic owner Rich DeVos, in making a difference in the lives of children throughout the area.

``The Orlando Magic Youth Fund, as part of the McCormick Fund, has been able to donate $18 million to more than 500 non-profit organizations and have a positive impact on 1 million youth throughout the community. That’s impressive,’’ Dan DeVos continued. ``My family is very dedicated to this organization and to this community and it’s just great to see the response of organizations and the results that they are able to achieve.’’

Magic CEO Alex Martins proudly refers to the OMYF grant ceremony as ``my favorite day of the year.’’ Martins feels that way because he sees the tears of joy and the emotional yelps and he knows that the Magic’s grant money is making a difference in the lives of thousands of at-risk children throughout Orlando and Central Florida.

``We really do get to impact youth by helping all of the great work that all of these organizations are doing,’’ said Martins, who will again make presentations to the grant recipients at Wednesday’s Magic-Hawks game at the Amway Center. ``There are hundreds of youth organizations throughout Central Florida who are doing great work to help at-risk youth and set them on a path for a better life. This is just a small way for us to try and help them do their work. They do all of the work, and for us to be able to distribute all of these funds and expand the number of youth that they serve or add another program, it’s incredibly meaningful to us.’’

Several representatives of the non-profit organizations had great praise for the Magic for being stewards of their community and seeking to be more than just a professional basketball team. In addition to giving the $600,000 in grants, Magic employees also volunteered 6,500 hours in community service last year with many of those hours going to support the non-profit organizations on hand Wednesday at the Amway Center.

``Events like this absolutely state what the Magic truly are about,’’ said Jordan Plante, the Vice President and CEO of City Year, which received a $25,000 grant to support its ``Whole School, Whole Child’’ intervention and support program.

``I’ve lived in a lot of cities around the country and I feel like this community, and the Magic specifically, are invested in such a special way,’’ Plante added. ``The Magic support all kinds of organizations of different programs and ethnicities. It’s just neat to see how invested they are. And not just in dollars alone. The dollars are huge, but the Magic coming to events, supporting events and getting their employees engaged and volunteering. So it goes far beyond the check that they are writing. They really are interested in the work that everyone is doing throughout Central Florida.’’

Funds for the grants are raised through charity events, donations and corporate partner contributions and they are matched at 50 cents on the dollar by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Beneficiaries of the grants must go through a five-phase process over a seven-month period before they are recommended by the OMYF Board and Advisory Council and then approved by the McCormick Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The 2014 grant recipients are: Adult Literacy League, Apopka Family Learning Center, BETA Center, Boys Town Central Florida, Children’s Home Society of Florida, City Year, Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, Elevate Orlando, Florida Hospital for Children, Foundation for Foster Children, Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, Gift of Swimming, Harbor House of Central Florida, Hebni Nutrition Consultants, Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, Orange County Library System, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Osceola Council on Aging, Rescue Outreach Mission of Central Florida, The Center for Drug Free Living-Zebra Coalition, The Salvation Army, University of Central Florida Foundation, Valencia College Foundation.

``This is amazing because we will now be able to shelter an additional 25 families. And that really is the difference between life and death for these families because these children they can grow up in a safe home and it stops the inter-generational cycle of violence,’’ said Harbor House CEO Carol Wick, whose organization received a $25,000 grant. ``Last year, we sheltered a record number of children in our shelter, almost 700, and we don’t want to ever say that we don’t have enough room or enough space. This allows us to stretch ourselves a little bit further thanks to help from the Magic.’’

Wednesday was emotional on a couple of different levels for Andrew Powell. As the Executive Director of the Rescue Outreach Mission of Central Florida, his organization received a $15,000 grant to aid the ``Opportunities and Hope’’ program that provides a safe haven women and their children fleeing domestic violence.

Powell was also excited to be on hand because his construction business, Apos Group, helped with the construction of the Amway Center back in 2008 and ‘09. He had two subcontracts on the arena to build the storage mezzanines in the basement of the facility and for the mobile filing units for the administrative offices.

``It’s all coming full circle for me,’’ Powell said. ``I enjoy what I am doing (with the Rescue Outreach Mission) because it brings together my vocational training in construction as well as my passion, which is being a blessing and a benefit to others. … Orlando is still a growing town, so to have the Magic step up in visible and tangible ways it sets an example of other organizations and businesses. They show the small parts that make a greater whole. It’s a positive and it speaks well for the Magic and their leadership.’’