Magic, Florida Blue Continue to Help Children Become Lifelong Learners

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - The Orlando Magic averaged 109.3 points at home in 2018-19, their best home scoring average since the 1994-95 season and third best in franchise history.

Not only did the Magic’s offensive production at home help them reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years, it’s now about to help more children in the area become more proficient readers.

That’s because of some crucial behind the scenes work the Magic and Florida Blue are doing to improve literacy throughout Central Florida.

In an effort to develop lifelong learners, the Magic and Florida Blue teamed up for the ninth season and donated one book for every point Orlando scored at home through their Baskets for Books program. With Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt Publishing Company (HMH) assisting as well, 4,500 books are being donated this year to local youth. More than 50,000 books have been donated since the inception of the program.

On Thursday, Magic and Florida Blue volunteers convened at the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, where they inserted five children’s books into 900 brand new backpacks, which are now going to be distributed to underserved kids from 17 different organizations.

Nick Anderson, who helped fill up the backpacks alongside fellow Magic Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw, says he wishes programs like this were available to him when he was growing up. To be part of an initiative like this now, though, brings the Magic legend, who later this year will be inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, tremendous joy.

“To see this happen for the young youth today is very gratifying. It’s special to see,” he said. “It’s important that young people take advantage of this opportunity. They say you need to read every day and this is a start for them, for our young youth to be helped by a program like this and enjoy it.”

The Magic and Florida Blue are also participating in the Orange County Library System’s (OCLS) Summer Reading Program, which includes an opportunity for youth to win a special prize.

The first 200 kids, ages 6-12, who earn a Magic Baskets for Books virtual badge presented by Florida Blue after submitting five book reviews online via Beanstack will receive two free tickets to a Magic game at Amway Center during the 2019-20 season.

Youth must submit their book reviews no later than Friday, Aug. 2 to be eligible. The winners will be notified by Aug. 9 and must have a library card in good standing with the OCLS.

“To us, it allows us to live out our mission, helping people in communities achieve better health,” Florida Blue Market President for the Central Region Tony Jenkins said. “The Magic are a great partner with us because they are already out in the community doing great things as well. So, it’s like we pull our two missions together and we focus on health, literacy and education. It’s a great, great project that we are doing together to change families and change lives in the community.”

Magic volunteers, including Anderson and Outlaw, will also be on hand at this Saturday's OCLS End of Summer Celebration at the downtown Orlando Public Library, where prizes such as bicycles, tickets to local attractions and a staycation will be awarded to attending children. The Magic will also hand out team-themed basketballs.

Research shows that students who read over the summer are sharper when they return to school and process new information more quickly than those who don’t.

Also, based on feedback the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County has received, children growing up with books in their home helps them become better learners.

“One of the things that we’ve consistently found was that there is not a small percentage of children in our community who do not have books in their home and if you don’t have books in your home, you’re not being read to and we know they are missing some really valuable learning experiences,” Early Learning Coalition of Orange County’s Director of Research and Special Projects Cindy Jurie said.

“The more a child is read to the more likely they are to do well when they hit kindergarten and have a path to success in school,” she added. “The Orlando Magic, Florida Blue and HMH’s partnership over the years with the Baskets for Books program has really been an enormous asset to our community because they have provided just some really great reading material for children to take home.”

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