ORLANDO – There’s an old adage that ‘every student is one caring adult away from a success story.’
For ELEVATE Orlando – whose mission is to build long-term, life-changing relationships with urban youth, equipping them to thrive and contribute to their community – they’re words to live by.
And now with the help of the DeVos Family Foundation, the children assisted by ELEVATE Orlando will know that they have more than just one adult in their corner. Instead, they have an entire community.
The DeVos Family Foundation continued its 30 Grants for 30 Years Initiative recently by making a $60,000 contribution to ELEVATE Orlando. The operations grant will, in part, support ELEVATE’s college and career pipeline program, which offers kids exposure and guidance to emerging industries and prepares students for thriving careers.
“This grant really helps to provide the resources we need to empower our students, like our teacher-mentors who live life with them,” said ELEVATE Orlando President Sherry Paramore. “It helps provide our ‘Dream Fund,’ things that students need to go to college, trade school or into the military that they would not be able to have otherwise.”
ELEVATE Orlando works with Jones High School, Evans High School, and Oak Ridge High School – along with the middle and elementary schools that feed into those high schools – to create a pipeline of mentorship. The organization is dedicated to walking with students through school, tough times, new experiences, college planning, and career visioning by taking a lifelong, holistic approach.
They’ve helped students like Jones High School senior Ethan Bright, who credits ELEVATE for helping motivate him to plan for life after high school.
“ELEVATE is a very important program for the youth, including me, growing up,” said Bright, who’s enlisted in the United States Army. “I always wanted to find some guidance and some role models to help me. ELEVATE did a tremendous job at instilling me with leadership skills, (teaching me) how to be responsible, (and) helping me with plans after high school. Things that me and my family never discussed.”
ELEVATE Orlando has an unbelievable track record of success. Ninety-eight percent of students who take part in the program are placed into college, vocational school, or the military – and 100 percent of their eligible participants have graduated high school over the past three years.
Symone Maddox, a junior dual-enrollment student at Jones High School and Orange Technical College, can attest to connections the program offers its students. Maddox, who wants to be a veterinarian, was paired with a mentor who works at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to help set her up for a path to success.
“Before ELEVATE, I was really shy (and) I didn’t really want to talk to anybody,” said Maddox, who recently started her own non-profit called Maddox’s Animal Rescue Inc. to help homeless animals and homeless people. “Going up to somebody to start a conversation made me really nervous and gave me really bad anxiety. When I walked into the (ELEVATE) classroom and they connected with me and started making me come out of my shell more, I knew it was going to affect my life.”
Those success stories are made possible by contributions like those from the DeVos Family Foundation. Their generosity, especially during a pandemic, has made an immense impact for organizations like ELEVATE Orlando.
“(Their support) has been critically important during the time of the pandemic and is truly coming at the right time,” Paramore said. “Because you can’t get out and meet people and tell the story, we have to rely on friends, who decide to invest in ELEVATE year after year. The (DeVos family and) the Orlando Magic have been one of those special partners that really invest in our students.”
As part of the DeVos family’s 30 Grants for 30 Years Initiative, a total of $3 million will be donated to 30 area nonprofit organizations over an 18-month period as they aim to invest in people and projects impacting youth, essential needs for families, and community enrichment across Central Florida.
“We can’t image better partners than Magic fans and the Central Florida community,” Magic Chairman Dan DeVos said. “We’re eager to come alongside nonprofits doing impactful work, providing financial support as well as an opportunity to shine a light on the great things these nonprofits do on a daily basis. It’s all to honor the great community we’re thankful to be in.”
Thus far, six of those grants have been announced, with donations to OMYF, New Image Youth Center, Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola County, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Dress for Success Greater Orlando, and ELEVATE Orlando.
The DeVos family has contributed more than $500 million to nonprofit causes in recent years, a level noted by Forbes when naming the family as one of the nation’s top givers. Much of the DeVos family’s philanthropy supports efforts and work in underserved communities to enact meaningful change, remove barriers, and allow for all to achieve their full potential.
“Thank you (DeVos family) for helping us make dreams come true for our students,” Paramore said. “Without (their) support, we would not be able to continue to walk the journey with them. But because of their support, we are able to walk that journey with them and see them graduate from high school … and make sure that they continue to live (out) the dream (of who) they are destined to be.”