He may have already built his associates their own medical clinic, sponsored college educations for hundreds of Orlando’s high school graduates and spent millions providing relief to Haiti, but now, hotelier Harris Rosen is making philanthropy look like child’s play.
Rosen’s latest community initiative is focused around providing a free preschool program for an urban community near downtown Orlando. It is the latest chapter in his long history of educational support, but marks a vision that few philanthropists are able to capture – one that promotes and encourages a community to reinvest in its own future.
In partnership with Orange County Public Schools, Rosen Preschool will be part of the new $61.3 million OCPS Academic Center for Excellence, slated to open this month. The preschool will provide 24 classrooms of educational curriculum, breakfast, lunch and snacks for children ages 2 to 4. The Harris Rosen Foundation will provide funding for the salaries of 76 teachers and an on-site director.
The preschool launch bookends Rosen’s spring 2016 announcement that every student who attends OCPS ACE and graduates from Jones High School will receive a scholarship to attend a two or four-year public college or university or technical/vocational school of their choice in Florida. The full scholarships includes tuition, books, and room and board.
Rosen estimates that the foundation will provide approximately $4.5 million per year to support the new program. This is the second community to be adopted by the benefactor. Rosen successfully implemented a similar program in Orlando’s Tangelo Park neighborhood in 1994. Since then, Tangelo Park’s graduation rates have soared from 55 percent to nearly 100 percent. The new program is estimated to be five times larger.
Rosen says his desire to give back was sparked about 25 years ago when he was planning for his sixth and seventh hotel properties.
“It just occurred to me that it was really time for me to say, ‘Thank you, God,’ for all of the blessings I’ve received and to start thinking about offering a helping hand to those in need,” Rosen says. “It’s not something everyone can do, but if you’ve been blessed as I have been then why not do it if you can?”
Jones High School graduate Stevenson Bassy says he now sees a bright future for both himself and his community. “Our community lacked hope. That’s about to change,” Bassy says.
Even Rosen is no stranger to the power of hope. Growing up in an underserved community in New York’s lower east side, he left the Army to work his way up the hospitality-industry ladder, risking it all to purchase his first property and build his seven-property company through good old-fashioned hard work. He began both of his education initatives to give children a better chance at achieving their dreams. In 2015, he was recognized by The King Center with the Coretta Scott King A.N.G.E.L. (Advancing Nonviolence through Generations of Exceptional Leadership) Award for his efforts.
“It’s the American dream,” Rosen says. “It’s alive and well.”