Magic players Tobias Harris, Dewayne Dedmon, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, C.J. Watson and Devyn Marble, Magic CEO Alex Martins, Magic staff members join Amway, Chase and the Coalition for the Homeless in giving back to Central Floridians
*In between serving scoops of eggs and potatoes onto plates for those the most in need, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins was informed that standout guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton had showed up – totally unprompted – because they wanted to help give back on Thanksgiving morning.
Martins was then forced to plow through the wave of emotion that came across him after realizing that even players such as Oladipo and Payton – ones who played 26 and 35 minutes respectively in Orlando’s defeat of New York just 10 hours earlier – were onboard and committed to the Magic’s mission of community service. So, right there alongside 75 other members of the Magic’s management team and staffers, Oladipo, Payton and teammates C.J. Watson and Devyn Marble took part in serving Thanksgiving breakfast to more than 700 men, women and children at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.
Oladipo, who scored a team-high 24 points in Wednesday’s win, wasn’t even supposed to be a part of Thursday’s annual event, but he contacted members of the Magic staff and asked if he could be involved. Payton, who also did his part on Wednesday with 12 points, 11 assists and six rebounds, was also a surprise arrival who just wanted to do whatever he could to help out.
That total commitment, Martins stressed, said a lot about the character of the players on the team and about the pervasiveness of the Magic’s intent to be leaders in making a difference throughout Central Florida.
“Seeing those guys here really makes me proud and it just speaks to the kind of people that we have in our organization, and in particular our players,’’ Martins said. “We talk a lot about our recruiting process of players and making sure that we have high-character individuals who want to be a part of this community and want to be a part of something greater than themselves and this is an exact example of that. For our guys being here on their own without even being required to be here, it says a lot about the people that they are.’’
And the generosity didn’t end there as Magic Head Coach Scott Skiles paid for the meal at the Coalition’s new dining hall that has been opened just 18 months. Thursday’s breakfast was the 23rd straight year that the Magic have served those most in need on Thanksgiving morning. President and CEO Brent Trotter thanked Martins for serving on the Coalition’s board in years past and Magic Chief Financial Officer Jim Fritz for currently serving and he raved about the backing that the franchise has provided through the years.
“Some of the people here at the Coalition feel like no one cares and they’ve been forgotten, yet today they are being served by the Orlando Magic players, staff and management. They’re giving their time and resources to make sure the people here at the Coalition feel loved,’’ Trotter said. “We rely on volunteers but this is 23 years in a row that the Magic have come on Thanksgiving morning to help out our residents and all of those in the community who are in need.’’
Because the face of homelessness has shifted from the middle-aged male to more and more mothers and small children – they make up 40 percent of the inhabitants at the Coalition and the average age of the children is 8 years old – the Magic also offered other services on Thursday to make sure the people there enjoyed their Thanksgiving fully. The Magic hosted an outdoor carnival for children that included an appearance by STUFF, the Magic Dancers and the Magic Blue Crew; a Magic Fit exercise station, Pop-a-shot and bounce house; caricatures, games, face painting, balloon art; and music by 104.5 The Beat. Also, adults and children were treated to haircuts by Paul Mitchell The School.
“For me, I’m so grateful for the Coalition and everything they have done for my family and all the children here,’’ said Orlando’s Rachele Tucholski, who was with her son Isaiah Tucholski and they have lived at the Coalition since Oct. 1. “My expectation of this day is to just be grateful for what we have. Without the Coalition and without the Magic we wouldn’t have much at all. I say thank you for blessing me and my child today.’’
Oladipo, a co-winner of the 2015 Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment award, rarely talks about his life without mentioning how blessed he is to play basketball for a living. Oladipo has made giving back a way of life since he was young growing up in suburban Washington, D.C. Oladipo said that even though he wasn’t asked or required to be at Thursday’s Thanksgiving breakfast that he wanted to be there as a way to show gratitude for all of the blessings that he has in his life.
“We’ve been played in a very fortunate position and a lot of us could be doing a lot of other stuff, so we have to be thankful and doing something to help others. This is my way of doing something about it,’’ Oladipo said. “Me and (Payton) got up early and came out here to be a part of this because, at the end of the day, we need to be out here. It’s important to us to help out and give back. The trials and tribulations and tough days that we go through in basketball are completely minor compared to what these people are going through. So it puts things in perspective for us.’’
Said Payton: “I just wanted to come down here and help. Anytime you can get out here to something like this and make somebody else’s life better that’s good.’’
Added Watson, the Magic’s reserve point guard who brought his entire family with him to the event: “The part that makes an event like this so great is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and the families faces. These people have real problems. We take basketball pretty serious as a job, but at the end of the day there’s a lot more going on in the world with people. So it’s good that we can help them out.’’
WWE wresting star Titus O’Neil, a native of Live Oak, Fla. and a Tampa resident, heard about Thursday’s event at the Coalition for the Homeless from Magic Community Ambassador and friend Bo Outlaw. O’Neil was once homeless himself as a child and through the help of others he was able to develop and eventually become a star wrestler. He said that the Magic should be lauded for their willingness to give their time and resources to assist those in need.
“I have a track record for doing a lot with the homeless worldwide because I was once homeless. This is a cause that means a lot to me because it’s about giving back to those who are less fortunate,’’ the 6-foot-4, 270-pound O’Neil said. “A lot of people invested in me when I was a kid growing up in Florida and they weren’t getting anything in return, so I feel like every day is an opportunity for me to make an investment in others. The Magic are doing that too. I’ve always had respect for the Magic organization because they also have a track record of being very philanthropic for various causes. For the players and staff to come out here on the day of the Thanksgiving holiday speaks volumes.’’
Martins peered out across the dining hall on Thursday morning, seeing all of the happy faces of the residents and the work being provided by a Magic staff that has logged more than 7,000 hours of community service, and he couldn’t help but think about legendary Magic owner Rich DeVos. It has always been the mission of the DeVos family that the Magic be about so much more than basketball. The hope has always been that the Magic will be difference-makers in the lives of those in the community. That certainly was the case on Thursday morning as the Magic showed their thanks by giving back.
“Twenty-five years ago when Mr. DeVos bought the team and stood up at that press conference he said he wanted to be a caretaker and that this was the community’s team and not his team,’’ recalled Martins, who has worked for Magic off and on for 27 years. “He always wanted to use this team as a platform to improve Central Florida and this is one example of the many things that he and his family have done to better the lives of many.
“We started doing this 23 years ago and it was a much smaller group and it was primarily men; now, you look around this room and it’s a larger group and it’s women and children and that’s the issue that we’re dealing with in our community,’’ Martins continued. “We’re going to be here as long as homelessness exists in Orlando. It’s a small way for us to give back for the many blessings that we have as an organization.’’
For more information on the Coalition for the Homeless, please visit: www.centralfloridahomeless.org.
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