by John Denton of nba.com
Some 31 years ago, when she sat in the former Orlando Arena for the first game in the Orlando Magic’s history, Lisa Blackwelder thought to herself how beneficial it would be for Orlando and the Central Florida community to have an NBA basketball team in the area.
On Wednesday, Blackwelder – the Director of Development for United Against Poverty, Up Orlando – got to see firsthand some of the good that the Magic continue to do for those in need in the community.
United Against Poverty was one of 16 nonprofit organizations from Central Florida to receive grants totaling $1,050,000 from the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation in a ceremony at the Amway Center on Wednesday. It is the 12thtime since the inception of the OMYF that the organization has given at least $1 million in grants in a year. Over the past 30 years, more than $25 million has been distributed to local nonprofit organizations through the OMYF and more than 2 million young people have been positively impacted.
``We’re so excited and so appreciative because this will help so many people,’’ Blackwelder said after United Against Poverty was one of 11 organizations to receive a $50,000 grant. ``We offer classes, which are called Success Training Employment Programs (STEPs), which helps people gain more skills, it helps people with high barriers get employment and we have a success coach who follows them up to three years if the person would like the be mentored. It will help hundreds of people and their families and we’re so happy.’’
Quite possibly, no one at Wednesday’s ceremony was happier than ELEVATE Orlando’s President, Sherry Paramore. Paramore gasped, raised her hands to her mouth and eventually flashed a wide smile when ELEVATE Orlando received one of the two $100,000 grants focused on improving educational opportunities for those in need in the Central Florida area.
``Oh my gosh, it was amazing because we worked so hard on this grant and we know that it will really benefit the students and it will help them dream more and then allow them to go after their dreams,’’ said Paramore, who noted that the Magic grant money will directly assist about 435 high school students in getting information and training for various career opportunities. ``To have this (grant money) that will help us elevate our students, it’s just so amazing for us.’’
It was that kind of raw emotion from the grant recipients that moved Magic Chairman Dan DeVos and CEO Alex Martins nearly to tears on Wednesday. Knowing that the grant money given on Wednesday will impact the lives of so many in need brought out the emotions for DeVos and Martins, both of whom battled through tears of joy while awarding the oversized checks and Magic basketballs to recipients on Wednesday.
``It makes my own eyes tear up when I see their tears,’’ said DeVos, who noted that the Magic organization is fulfilling the wishes of his late father and mother, Rich and Helen DeVos, by continuing to help those most in need. ``This is just what (Mr. and Mrs. DeVos) would have wanted and it’s always good to remember that. It’s nice to know that we’re building this long term. The organization has committed to doing this and we certainly want to grow it as far as we can because we know the need is great. There are a lot of organizations out there that want to help make a difference in this community and we want to help them the best that we can to assist.’’
Said Martins: ``It’s great just to see the looks on these people’s faces. I mean, there were some tears today, which means that we’re obviously making an impact on them and the work that they do. They really work hard, and we want to help. It’s emotional because of the overall magnitude of what we’re doing. There’s so much need in our community and we’re trying to raise more and more and more and that’s why we started the Orlando Wine Festival and Auction … so that we could raise more money for these organizations. To be able to give $1 million away, you make an impact. And to see them come up with a tear in their eye when they’re getting a $100,000 check, it’s changing for their organization and it means that they’re going to be able to have a really positive impact on our kids.’’
The Magic and the DeVos Family are so committed to making a difference in the Central Florida community that each year the organization gives more than $2 million to Central Florida by way of sponsorships of events, donated tickets, autographed merchandise and grants.
At the heart of the Magic’s charitable efforts is the work done by the OMYF. The OMYF is committed to helping children in Central Florida realize their full potential, especially those at risk, by supporting nonprofit organizations offering youth-based programs in the areas of education, housing/homelessness, the arts and health programs focused on preventing childhood obesity.
In 30 years, the OMYF has distributed more than $25 million to local nonprofit organizations. The DeVos Family covers all the administrative expenses of the OMYF, which allows for 100 percent of all donations to go directly to the foundation in its efforts to make Central Florida a better place to live and work.
``It’s substantial for some of these organizations to get $50,000 or $100,000, and when we’re reviewing (the grantees), we want to know how many children can be taken care of with this money,’’ OMYF President Linda Landman-Gonzalez. ``We’re extraordinarily proud when we hear the impact that we’re making. The Magic are truly a neighbor to this community, but we don’t take that lightly. It’s not just our treasure, as in this case, but our time that is important, sitting on 55 different not-for-profit boards. Being at the table and understanding what the needs are, that’s just part of what we’re proud of about what we do.’’
The OMYF raises money to give to those in need through fundraising events such as the OMYF Open golf tournament and the Orlando Wine Festival and Auction. The second-annual Wine Festival and Auction, the signature fundraiser for the OMYF, will be held March 13-15 at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. The weekend is set to feature exclusive vintner dinners, an outdoor festival featuring live music, live auction displays an e-auction, local and celebrity chefs, wineries, food pavilions and appearances by Magic coaches and players. Each guest also receives an invitation to the OMYF grant ceremony and all funds from the Wine Festival and auction will be distributed to local nonprofit organizations. Last year’s Orlando Wine Festival and Auction raised $900,000 for the OMYF.
This year’s list of grantees include: AdventHealth Foundation/Hebni Nutrition Consultants ($100,000 for a three-year grant cycle); Orlando Science Center/Early Learning Coalition of Osceola County ($100,000 for a three-year grant cycle); Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida/Grace Medical Home, Inc. ($100,000 for a three-year grant cycle); ELEVATE Orlando ($100,000); Pace Center for Girls – Orange ($100,000); Central Florida Community Arts ($50,000); Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida ($50,000); Early Learning Coalition of Orange County ($50,000); Foundation for Orange County Public Schools ($50,000); Harbor House of Central Florida ($50,000); Hope CommUnity Center ($50,000); IMPOWER ($50,000); Orlando Ballet ($50,000); Orlando Repertory Theatre ($50,000); Orlando Shakes (in Partnership with UCF) ($50,000) and United Against Poverty ($50,000).
As for Lisa Blackwelder of United Against Poverty, she said the Magic should be lauded for being more than just a basketball franchise and continually working to help those in need in the community. Just as she thought 31 years ago, while watching the Magic play for the first time back in 1989, the partnership between Orlando and the Magic has been a great one for everyone involved.
``I remember coming to the very first game – I’m a Florida native – and just being awestruck that we have an NBA team here and I remember thinking how the organization is going to help the community grow and help people,’’ said Blackwelder, whose United Against Poverty organization helps families with education, training, and empowerment to improve their financial stability and self-sufficiency. ``The (OMYF) has helped so many people and so many organizations through the years and it’s made our community safer and it’s made it smarter. So, we’re a safer, smarter and stronger community because of the Magic.’’
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.