By Jueseppi B.
Harris Rosen went from a childhood in a rough New York City neighborhood to becoming a millionaire whose company owns seven hotels in Orlando, but his self-made success is not his proudest achievement.
Twenty years ago, the Orlando, Fla. neighborhood of Tangelo Park was a crime-infested place where people were afraid to walk down the street. The graduation rate at the local high school was 25 percent. Having amassed a fortune from his success in the hotel business, Rosen decided Tangelo Park needed some hospitality of its own.
“Hospitality really is appreciating a fellow human being,” Rosen told Gabe Gutierrez in a segment that aired on TODAY Wednesday. “I came to the realization that I really had to now say, ‘Thank you.’’’
Rosen, 73, began his philanthropic efforts by paying for day care for parents in Tangelo Park, a community of about 3,000 people. When those children reached high school, he created a scholarship program in which he offered to pay free tuition to Florida state colleges for any students in the neighborhood.
In the two decades since starting the programs, Rosen has donated nearly $10 million, and the results have been remarkable. The high school graduation rate is now nearly 100 percent, and some property values have quadrupled. The crime rate has been cut in half, according to a study by the University of Central Florida.
“We’ve given them hope,’’ Rosen said. “We’ve given these kids hope, and given the families hope. And hope is an amazing thing.”
Tangelo Park resident Georgia Gordan admitted that she was ready to move away 20 years ago, saying the neighborhood was “drug-infested” and remembering when people were afraid to walk outside. Gordan decided to stay when Rosen offered free day care, and her daughter eventually became a college scholarship recipient from Rosen’s program.
“It’s one thing to offer a scholarship to one person one time,’’ Gordan’s daughter, Rachel Jones-Manuel, told TODAY. “But to continuously, for over 20 years, to continue to provide this type of incentive for people to go to school, I think is absolutely wonderful.”
Rosen is hoping other private donors see the positive effects of his scholarship programs and start their own versions in hard-hit communities across the country. His generosity continues to benefit students like scholarship recipient Kamillia Crawford, who is a freshman at Central Florida studying to become a lawyer.
“(I want to) make sure that I show the world that with his gift, I was able to reach my max potential,’’ Crawford told TODAY.
Thank you TODAY.
What is the Tangelo Park Pilot Program?
The Tangelo Park Pilot Program is a three-fold educational community service initiative to benefit children and families living in the Tangelo Park neighborhood in Orlando, FL.
Who started the program and when?
The Tangelo Park Pilot Program was created by Orlando hotelier and philanthropist, Harris Rosen, in 1994. He funds the project through his philanthropy, the Rosen Foundation.
What are the components of the program?
1) Free preschool for every two-, three- and four-year-old child living in the Tangelo Park neighborhood.
2) Full college or vocational school scholarships for every graduating high school senior from the Tangelo Park area. Scholarships include tuition, room and board, books and travel expenses.
3) A Family Resource Center where parents can take parenting courses, obtain counseling and other resources to help them become positive role models.
Harris Rosen also added a new facility to the Tangelo Park YMCA which includes a gym, weight lifting room and basketball court.
How did the project come about?
Orange County Commissioner Mable Butler suggested that Rosen support high school students at Tangelo Park; he then created the college scholarship program, preschool program and Family Resource Center.
How much money has been donated?
Since the program’s inception in 1994, the Rosen Foundation has donated more than $8 million to the Tangelo Park Program.
How many children have benefited from the Tangelo Park Program?
Of those students in Tangelo who go on to four-year schools, either directly or through community college, 77% achieve a degree–far above the expectation for a community of this socioeconomic level. Of those who go on to graduate school 83% complete their programs. Tangelo students who enter community college complete their associate degree at the rate of 32%–again above the nation average. High school graduates entering vocational programs complete at a rate of 83%. A number of recipients are enrolled in military service.
How many childcare facilities are funded by Rosen?
The Rosen Foundation funds ten childcare centers in the Tangelo Park area and each employs only certified child care providers. There are no more than six children per day care provider.
Why is it important to help teens go to college?
Rosen’s research has shown that if teens make it through high school, the program pays for itself in returns to the community. A high school graduate will earn $500,000 more in his lifetime than a non high-school graduate, while a college graduate will earn $1 million more in his lifetime than a non-college graduate. If a student earns a post-graduate degree, he will earn $1 million more in his lifetime than a college graduate.
Rosen cites research from the U.S. Secretary of Education, which stated that if the country could get students who are not graduating from high school to earn their diplomas, the U.S. economy would save $250 billion a year.
What are the benefits of the program?
Preschool students who have one, two and three years of free preschool at Tangelo Park before entering Kindergarten are more prepared than those who do not attend preschool. They are often referred to as “gifted” students. Tangelo Park Elementary School was one of very few urban elementary schools in Florida to receive an “A” grade six of the last seven years, based on the statewide scholastic FCAT exams.
There also has been a dramatic increase in PTA and SAC participation, meaning that parents also want to be more involved in their children’s education.
Prior to the program, the vast majority of high school students from Tangelo Park did not go on to college and the high school dropout rate was close to 25 percent. Today, virtually 100% of the Tangelo students graduate with a regular diploma; 98% since TPP’s inception. Grade point averages have steadily increased and are predicted to exceed 3.0 in the coming years.
Additionally, Economics Professor Lance Lockner of the University of Toronto, who has studied the Tangelo Park neighborhood extensively, determined that crime had been reduced by 53% showing a continuous decline over the past several years and a near eradication of illegal drug dealing was directly attributable to the program. He has calculated that for every $1 dollar invested by the Rosen Foundation in Tangelo Park (over $8 million invested during the past 17 years) Central Florida’s local economy has derived a return of seven dollars.
What is the Tangelo Park neighborhood? Where is it located?
Tangelo Park is a predominately African-American neighborhood in south Orange County, not far from International Drive, the attractions area and most of Rosen’s hotels. The neighborhood is made up of about 1,000 homes. Since inception of the program, the property value has risen from an average of $45,000 to an average $150,000. Rosen’s program has made the neighborhood desirable to parents who want the educational benefits for their children.
What are the schools affected by the program?
The Tangelo Park Program benefits children at Tangelo Park Elementary, Southwest Middle School and Dr. Phillips High School.
Who is Harris Rosen?
Harris Rosen, a long-time Orlando resident, is the President and COO of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, Florida’s largest independent hotel chain which includes Rosen Shingle Creek, Rosen Plaza, Rosen Centre and four value-priced properties including Quality Inn International, Rosen Inn, Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando, Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista, for a total of more than 6,300 guest rooms.
Rosen is a trustee at the University of Central Florida and donated the land and provided the funding to build the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Rosen also donated $3.5 million to build the Jack and Lee Rosen Southwest Orlando Jewish Community Campus, named in honor of his parents. He is an active conservationist and makes many other charitable donations.