With a nod to actor John Krasinski’s uplifting coronavirus Facebook series … now for “Some Good News” courtesy of The Harris Rosen Foundation.
While the world seems to be swirling in chaos, it’s nice to know there is an anchor in the storm. Local hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen has always been one of Central Florida’s most impassioned advocates for those in need. As such, his Tangelo Park Program here shows no signs of stopping amidst the recent economic downturn. In fact, it may be the solution to a national crisis.
“Peaceful protesting is fine,” Rosen said recently, referring to the impoverished communities nationwide marching for much-needed change. “That’s what democracy is all about. But to protest without a remedy to the situation doesn’t solve anything. It’s appropriate to feel badly about a situation, but do something about it.”
And so he did, 27 years ago. In 1993, personally moved by the dire climate in the underserved Orlando community of Tangelo Park, at that time its 3,000 residents gripped in crime, drugs and too few youth graduating high school, Rosen made a commitment to do something about it.
As the first in his family to graduate college, he understood how education could transform a life. As such, he decided to compel Tangelo Park youth to finish high school with the promise of a free two- or four-year Florida public college or vocational school education, including room, board, tuition and books.
To ensure parents had support to foster their children’s academic success, a diversified community board with representatives from the local police department, fire department, feeder public schools, the University of Central Florida and Tangelo Park community leaders was formed. Free preschools, funded by Rosen, gave 2-4 year-olds a head start before entering public school. Hope began to infuse the neighborhood, which has eventually transformed.
This year, 100% of the community’s high school seniors graduated. With Rosen’s close to $14 million commitment, 438 scholarships have been awarded, producing 224 college and 15 vocational school degrees. Orlando Mayor Jerry L. Demings has called Tangelo Park a “quiet oasis,” referring to the program’s remarkable affect in diminishing crime.
In 2017, Harris Rosen initiated a similar program in Parramore, near downtown Orlando. He holds out hope that others become inspired by Tangelo Park’s success and are moved to “do something about it” in their own backyards.
“Inequality of opportunity should never exist in our country,” Rosen says. “If we had a Tangelo Park Program in every underserved community in America, we would not recognize this great nation. And that’s what is so frustrating for me. Ours is not the only answer. But it certainly is a viable answer. One that has been proven to work quite effectively over the decades.”