By John Denton
ORLANDO – Raised in an impoverished setting and often offered little direction from those closest to him, Orlando Magic forward Glen “Big Baby” had to rely on the generosity of others to escape and put himself in position for a better life.
Now a successful professional basketball player, a product of LSU and a doting father to a beautiful little girl, Davis knows just how important helping others can be. It can spark change, promote creativity and let children know that there are many paths available to a better life, he said, speaking from experience.
Davis joined Magic CEO Alex Martins, Florida Blue President Tony Jenkins, Magic Community Ambassadors Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw and STUFF on Thursday as the Magic built and unveiled a reading corner at the Orange County-Orlando Magic Rec Center at Goldenrod Park. The group assembled desks, chairs and bookcases and stacked dozens of books so that children in the area will have a place to read after school or on weekends.
Davis could only smile as he thumbed through many of the books that he missed out on as a child, but ones that he often reads now to his daughter, Amari. Davis smiled at the thought of the new Magic Reading Corner having an effect on hundreds of children who attend the recreational center on a weekly basis.
“We sometimes don’t realize how fundamental reading is. It just helps people in so many ways. It helps kids stay in school and it helps guide their path for what they want to do in their future,” Davis said. “I never realized it until I became an NBA player – and one with my story – that I feel like I’m a true testimony to overcoming things and using education and sports to make a way for myself. I think events like this are really, really important and I need to get out and share my story. This event lets me share my story.”
In keeping with the celebration of their 25th anniversary season, the Magic and Florida Blue opened 25 reading corners throughout Central Florida. Items donated were children’s furniture, a bookcase, Magic décor and several boxes of books given by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The Magic have made it their mission to be champions on the court and throughout the Central Florida community. The franchise is an active leader in making a difference in the lives of children, something that is further evidenced by the Magic’s “25 Events in 25 Days” community campaign going on now.
“It’s been important for us for 25 years. Kids have been at the very heart of all of our philanthropic and community relations efforts since we came to Orlando 25 years ago,” Martins said. “It started with reading programs and it’s extended itself over these last 25 years. These reading corners are just another element of how we can help kids develop in great, safe places after school and really learn how to read.”
The first learning center was opened at Goldenrod Park, a community recreational center built and opened by the Magic three years ago. The Magic five community recreational centers built by the Magic – the South Econ Community Park on Econlockhatchee Trail; Goldenrod Park on Goldenrod Road; Meadow Woods Park on Rhode Island Woods Circle; Silver Star Community Park on North Apopka Vineland Road; and the West Orange Recreation Center in Winter Garden – are all celebrating their three-year anniversary. Because the facilities are state-of-the-art and costs are kept at a reasonable amount by not-for-profit ventures, they have been a boon for Orange County residents looking to shoot hoops, play volleyball, work out or simply congregate in a secure, air-conditioned facility.
The Goldenrod Park community center is home to thousands of children monthly for after-school programs, summer camps and basketball leagues. Building 25 reading corners throughout Central Florida where literally thousands of children will now have the access to new books allows the Magic to truly make a dramatic difference in the community, Martins said.
“Twenty-five is our big number and we’re doing 25 of these reading corners all throughout Central Florida and it’s great to be here at the Goldenrod Park Orlando Magic Recreation Center that we built and opened three years ago,” Martins said. “The fact that we can reach thousands of kids through a program like this is exactly what we want to do. We want to help them improve their lives, given them hope for the future, and in this program teach them how to read.”
As for Davis, he is still rehabilitating his left foot following a second procedure in July to repair a broken bone. He has been openly frustrated by having to miss training camp workouts and the Magic’s exhibition opener and there is no timetable for his return as he works his way back. But Davis said events like the opening of the reading corner allows him to take his mind off basketball and focus on helping others.
“Right now, it’s a period of rebuilding my body and rebuilding my foot. This event gets my mind off it and reminds me about what is important in life,’’ he said. “(When it comes to children’s books) I’m a Berenstain Bears type of guy and I read to my daughter a lot. We have all types of books. I’m a big fan of reading to kids at a young age and it’s important to have books. You’d be surprised at statistics of kids who don’t even have books in their house. How can you start a reading foundation if you don’t even have books in your house? What the Magic do with Florida Blue it’s very important to make sure that kids have books that they can read.”
The 25 reading corners throughout Central Florida were built by Magic employees as part of the Magic Volunteer Program (MVP) and Florida Blue volunteers. Here are the 25 facilities where the reading corners were constructed: Highland Christian Academy, Juliette Cooks, Daydreams Child Development Center, Good Homes Preschool of Ocoee, Good Homes Preschool of Orlando, Callahan Neighborhood Center, Discover Academy, Merriday Montessori School, Children’s Academy at Loch Haven, Wadeview Community Center, Heritage Prep School, Pine Hills Preschool and Childcare Center, Young Achievers, Storybook School, Best Memories, Dover Shores Community Center, Ladybird Academy of Wyndham Lakes, Kinderklub Academy, Bright Horizons of Winter Garden, Barnett Park & Gym (Orange County Orlando Magic Rec Center), Goldenrod Park (Orange County Orlando Magic Rec Center), Meadow Woods Park (Orange County Orlando Magic Rec Center), Silver Star Community Park (Orange County Orlando Magic Rec Center), South Econ Community Park (Orange County Orlando Magic Rec Center), West Orange Recreation Center (Orange County Orlando Magic Rec Center).