Traveling from Parramore to Winter Garden on Friday, Jennifer Porter-Smith didn’t dare close her eyes or take her hands off the steering wheel of her vehicle, but she was deep in prayer throughout the drive.
Porter-Smith, the executive director of the Nap Ford Community School, knew what came later in the day would have a profound impact on her school’s ability to shape the lives of so many children in need of assistance. She had tears welling up in her eyes when Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris announced on Friday that Nap Ford Community School would be the recipient of a $20,000 grant. The contribution was made possible through a $50,000 donation that Harris was awarded as part of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award that he received last spring for his off-the-court efforts.
The gravity of Harris’ generous actions was seen as the tears streamed down the cheeks of an emotional Porter-Smith.
“Driving over, I was saying a prayer and I said, ‘Lord, you know what we need. We really need $20,000.’ I told myself that the likelihood was not there, but if I didn’t ask for it He can’t give it to us. So I was asking,” Porter-Smith said. “We’re a small school in Parramore trying to do the work that’s needed for these children. I didn’t think we’d get anything near $20,000 and I was just so grateful to Tobias and the Magic.”
In addition to the $20,000 awarded to Nap Ford Community School, Harris also rewarded the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools with a $25,000 check and $5,000 to Howard Middle School. The presentation was made at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge following the 15th Annual Fore Our Schools Golf Tournament, an event which featured 250 golfers and raised $175,000 to assist the schools in improving educational programs for students.
Harris, who has been one of the Magic’s most community-minded players since coming to Orlando more than 18 months ago, said that the opportunity to have a direct impact on the lives of thousands of school children was humbling to him. The Orange County Public School System is the 10th largest in the nation, providing instruction to 187,000 students with nearly 13,000 teachers in 184 schools. Harris was happy to be able to contribute to the success of those students.
“To be able to impact different kids’ lives and work with the organizations in the schools that we’ve been able to build relationships with, that’s the biggest thing to me,” Harris said. “It’s special to donate the money and seeing tears on (Porter-Smith’s) face. That lets me know deep-down inside that the money is going to the right cause. That’s for the kids and I appreciate this opportunity quite a lot.’’
Harris’ donation was made possible through the 2013-14 Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment award, which he won last spring after conducting a variety of community events designed to aid needy families and underserved children. Each year the DeVos family honors a player who has dedicated his efforts off the court for the purpose of enhancing others’ lives. With the award comes a $50,000 grant for the player to donate to the charity of his choice.
Harris and the Magic open training camp on Sept. 30 at the Amway Center. Orlando added five veterans (Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Evan Fournier, Luke Ridnour and Willie Green) and three rookies (Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble) to a strong foundation (Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle O’Quinn, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Harris) in the offseason. Many of those players are already in Orlando and going through voluntary basketball, weight-lifting, track and boxing drills on a daily basis to build chemistry for the season ahead.
“The seriousness is that we’ve got to play together,” Harris said. “We made some great moves this offseason and we know that with the guys that we have in here we have to play together as a team. We have to play team defense and have the mindset that we need to go out and win.”
Magic GM Rob Hennigan and Vice President/Assistant GM Scott Perry attended the function on Friday to show their support for Harris’ willingness to be a leader in the Orlando community with his charitable work. Harris said that making a difference in the community isn’t just lip service with the Magic; the organization makes it a point to give back in whatever ways it can and specially target those the most in need.
“When I came to the Orlando Magic and saw work that they did in the community, I wanted to ripple off that and make a difference too,” Harris said. “It’s not just about what we do on the court or statistics or wins and losses; it’s about the kids. What we do with the Magic, it’s not just for a picture or an Instagram post; it’s about helping kids’ lives and having them tell their parents that an NBA player told him something that will stick with them. It’s all about the impact that we can make with these kids’ lives.’’
Orlando Magic’s Tobias Harris Makes $50K Donation to
Orange County Public Schools for Education
By John Denton
Porter-Smith said the difference that Harris will make in the lives of the children at Nap Ford Community School is immeasurable. She said the grant money given by the Magic will allow her school to conduct much-needed programs that were otherwise cut because of budget concerns. That, she said, is one way that Harris and the Magic will have a direct impact on bettering the opportunities for students.
“This means the difference in us being able to be effective for children and knowing what we need to do instructionally or not having the resources that we needed to be impactful with these kids. It’s very emotional for me,” Porter-Smith said. “The Magic are good stewards of the community and they take seriously the notion of giving back, especially to children who don’t have the resources to be successful. This says a lot about the Magic organization, about the individual that Tobias is and his family. I met his mother and father and they are good, salt-of-the-earth people.”