By John Denton
ORLANDO – For months now, Benji has raved about the time that he got to spend a couple of hours with Orlando Magic standout guard J.J. Redick and he got to show off his collection of Magic bobble-head dolls. Thanks to the generosity of Redick and the Magic, Benji will soon be getting the “Orlando Magic room” of his dreams at Orlando’s Russell Home for special needs children and adults.
“I’m trying not to cry right now,” said Benji, who was decked out in a Redick No. 7 jersey and a blue Magic hat, as he had a wide smile splashed across his face.
Benji is one 25 special needs patients living at the Russell Home. The facility is the first non-profit institution for brain-damaged children in the country. Children and adults ranging from eight years old to 62 years old live at the home started in 1951 when the late Vantrease “Grandma” Russell first took in a special needs child.
Redick donated $25,000 to the Russell Home on Wednesday in hopes of helping pave the way for the construction of a new facility. Redick’s donation is part of him winning the 2011-12 Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award. In getting the award, Redick was granted $50,000 to donate to a charity of his choice in the Central Florida area.
Redick, who recently started a charitable foundation of his own, first visited the Russell Home his wife Chelsea last May. He was touched by the loving support that the caregivers at the facility provide and he saw the Russell Home’s need to expand so that it could properly serve its patients. By choice, the Russell Home operates without the benefit of federal, state or local funding, and relies on the generosity of those like Redick and the Magic in giving.
“Within five minutes of being here we knew this is where we wanted to give our money because it’s an incredible place with wonderful people. It’s very gratifying to give this money to them and hopefully we’ll get them along their way toward building a new home,” Redick said. “We wanted to do something that helped kids. Obviously some of the people who live here are adults, but they are kids at heart. Everything seemed like this was a great place and once we spent a couple of hours here we saw the amazing things they do here.
Plans are underway for the Redicks to put on a contest to help decide which charitable organization will receive the other $25,000 in grant money from the Magic via the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award. Redick said much consideration will go into picking the recipient and he is partial to giving to organizations that help underserved children.
“We still have $25,000 to give away and Chelsea and I thought it would be neat as a way to have active participants in giving if we had a contest to give that money away,” Redick said. “We’re going to ask people to send in videos and essays of non-profits who have had an impact on their lives and there will be a check presentation. It will be a cool way in bringing it full circle and involving the community.”
Redick and the Magic open training camp on Tuesday at the Amway Center in Orlando. After three two-a-day practice sessions, the Magic will travel to Mexico City to open the exhibition season against the New Orleans Hornets on October 7.
The Magic will play their first home preseason game on October 11 against the new-look Philadelphia 76ers, and they will host the Denver Nuggets on November 2 in the regular-season opener. Redick is excited to get started with a revamped roster and new leadership in GM Rob Hennigan and Head Coach Jacque Vaughn.
“I’m ready to go,” Redick said. “I was telling a marathon runner the other day that for (NBA players) it’s like we’ve been training for a marathon for six months and race day has never come. Eventually you wake up and don’t want to run 20 miles every day. That’s where I am now – I want the season to be here, I want to start competing and I’m ready for next week.”
Before he pours himself into the Magic season, Redick has fixed his focus on helping the Russell Home aid special needs kids and adults. Benji, an avid fan, has been able to attend several Magic games and has served as an “Honorary Captain” a couple of times. Another Russell Home resident, Michael, was born with only a brain stem and was given only weeks to live. Despite being blind and needing constant care, Michael is now eight years old and has impressed care givers with his progress.
Now, Redick wants to help the Russell Home expand with a new facility and be a part of decorating that Orlando Magic room for Benji and others.
“The layout of the house is a little odd because when it started in 1951, the original Mrs. Russell basically took in one kid who had been left on her doorstep. She opened her doors and not knowing that someday they’d have more than 30 kids,” Redick said. “The floor plan of the current house reflects that because they have six to eight beds in most bedrooms and all of the kids share either one or two bathrooms. They need more space and the staff needs more space. It’s a need in Orlando and we’re hoping to help them fill that need.”
The work of J.J. and Chelsea Redick has drawn rave reviews from those at the Russell Home. The $25,000 donation by Redick and the Magic has allowed the Russell Home to get approximately halfway to its goal of raising enough money to fund the construction of a new special needs home.
“J.J. has become a hero in our community with his big heart helping our underserved children,” Russell Home board member Mark Richmond said. “J.J. just recently started his own foundation and we’re really excited about the work that he’s going to be doing here in our community.”