By John Denton, orlandomagic.com
For a second consecutive year, the Orlando Magic is helping Osceola County's Education Foundation shape the lives of children and give them hope for the future.
Through a $20,000 grant to the Education Foundation's Bookmark Buddies Club, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, a McCormick Foundation Fund (OMYF-MFF) is enabling the Osceola County schools to aid third-graders who are struggling with their reading. Of the 300 kids who participated in the program, 97 percent of them went on to pass the F-CAT and advanced in school.
But teaching children reading skills appropriate for their age levels extends well beyond performance on a standardized test. It also gives them a better chance at having a successful life, said Kathy Carr, the executive director of Osceola's Education Foundation.
"The thing that I think is particularly neat is that this says to me that the Magic (through the OMYF-MFF) care about the future of the kids and not just what is happening to them in the moment. This says that they want to help change kids lives so that they will have a better future," Carr said. "We know through research that most kids who end up incarcerated can't read. So by saving these children early on and turning their reading around and giving them the ability to learn all of the other courses in school it changes their lives.
"And another part of this is if you are a third-grader and you can't read then it really destroys your self-esteem and the other kids are making fun of you," Carr continued. "So, all of the issues of getting behind in school, not being able to read and having low self-esteem, all of them send kids in a wrong direction. By changing this one little thing in the third grade you can make all the difference in the world for these kids. So I really feel like the Magic (through the OMYF-MFF) are changing our children's lives."
The Osceola County Education Foundation was one of 19 non-profit organizations to receive grant money totaling $1 million from the OMYF-MFF this year. It's the second consecutive year that the OMYF-MFF has given $1 million away, raising the total to approximately $17 million given to local non-profit groups over the past 22 years.
Three organizations were the beneficiaries of $100,000 grants: the Orlando Health Foundation (Howard Phillips Center), the Osceola Council on Aging and the Conductive Education Center of Orlando.
The other 2012 grant recipients are: Adult Literacy League ($30,00), Apopka Family Learning Center (Justice & Peace Office) ($53,000), Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida ($75,000), Bridges of Light Foundation ($35,000), Community Coordinated Child Care ($35,000), Early Learning Coalition ($50,000), Foster Grandparent Program ($75,000), Foundation for Orange County Public Schools ($50,000), Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools ($20,000), Foundation for Seminole State College of Florida ($75,000), Foundation of Osceola Education ($20,000), GROWS Literacy Council ($30,000), Hope CommUnity Center ($40,000), Gift of Swimming ($20,000), Boys' Town of Central Florida ($50,000) and the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida ($42,000).
Making a difference in the community is clearly as important as winning on the court to the DeVos family, owners of the Magic. Magic Chairman Dan DeVos said recently that the mission of his father, legendary Magic owner Rich DeVos, is for the franchise to positively affect as many lives as possible while also putting a winning product on the basketball court.
"This means a lot to (Rich DeVos) and that's what drives him. Making a difference in the community is what he's all about," Dan DeVos said. "We've learned from him that we're here to try to make a difference in people's lives in a lot of different ways. This is one of those ways that we can impact the community in a positive way. … It says a lot about the franchise for the respect that it has for this community and it also says a lot about the community itself. We're just a vehicle that the community respects and understands and it benefits everybody. Everybody is working together and we're playing our role."
Osceola County's Bookmark Buddies Club targets third-graders who are on the cusp of reading and they just need a little help. Often, when those students get some personalized tutoring and one-on-one attention, they can make the strides necessary to read on a third-grade level.
The students are matched up with a staffer who specifically works with them to teach to sound out words and comprehend sentences. The three staff tutors work on a part-time basis, covering several schools in the Osceola County school district.
Carr said without the grant money from the OMYF-MFF the program would likely die out because of a lack of funding. She shudders at the thought of what might happen to some of the children in the program without learning how to read at a young age.
"This is for the kids that probably just don't have anybody at home reading to them and somebody who is focusing attention on them. These kids have the ability there, but they just need an adult to help them find it," Carr said. "Right now with the economy the way that it is, we'd probably have to limit the program without the Magic's help. This grant is a huge component of our funding and it's really helped a lot. With donations down it's really been a tough year and we're very thankful for the Magic (through the OMYF-MFF) funding this project because it's so important for our kids."
The OMYF raises community dollars annually through donations, auctions and events such as the Black Tie and Tennies Gala and the OMYF Golf Tournament with matching funds at $0.50 on the dollar provided by the McCormick Foundation. The McCormick Foundation has been providing matching funds for the OMYF since 1994 (OMYF-MFF).
To learn more or make a difference with a donation, visit omyf.org