By John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com – Overjoyed by the financial gift that Tobias Harris and the Orlando Magic had just bestowed on the Nap Ford Community School, Dr. Jennifer Porter-Smith said the versatile forward’s contributions to the kids of Central Florida extend well beyond just dollars and cents.
“When I think about what Tobias is pouring into the spirit of our children, you just can’t put a price tag on that,” said an emotional Dr. Porter-Smith, Nap Ford’s executive director.
Harris, who is set to enter his fifth NBA season in the coming weeks, continued with his mission of making a difference in the Central Florida community recently by awarding $50,000 in grant money to the Nap Ford Community School and the Orlando Community and Youth Trust. As the winner of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment award for a second consecutive year, Harris, 23, was able to give the money to organizations of his choosing. He ultimately selected two groups that he thought could have the biggest impact – something he was already familiar with because of the countless hours he has spent mentoring students and helping to put them on the path toward success.
“It’s really gratifying because I know both of these organizations are going to help the kids and (the money) will impact lives,” Harris said at a gala in Orlando on Friday night. “Every kid that I talk to and mentor, my message is, ‘Hey, you have to have your academics straight and I want you to be successful and get to college.’ To hear that a lot of these kids are making it to college, that’s what we do all of this for.”
Harris’ donation to both organizations was made possible through the 2014-15 Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award. Each year, the Orlando Magic honors a player who has dedicated his efforts off the court for the purpose of enhancing others’ lives at the annual Orlando Magic Youth Foundation Black Tie and Tennies Gala. Harris was named co-winner of the award at the OMYF Gala in March along with Magic guard Victor Oladipo. In addition to receiving the award, the player is granted $50,000 from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation to donate to the charity of his choice. Oladipo will announce his donation to a charity or charities at a later date.
“We feel blessed that Tobias has wanted to give back and he has always been a giving person to others,” said Harris’ proud father, Torrel Harris, who has worked with wife Lisa to ensure that their son contributes off the basketball court. “He feels like a kid himself when he works with these kids and this is just something that is a part of his heart. To me as a father, it’s just great that my son realizes the importance of giving back.”
The 2014-15 season was a big one for Harris, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward who has evolved into a team leader for the Magic. On the court, he averaged career highs in several categories and in July he inked a long-term contract extension with the Magic that will keep him in Orlando for the foreseeable future.
Off the court, Harris spent large chunks of his time giving back to others in a variety of ways. At Thanksgiving, he gave away turkeys to families in need. At Christmas, he took several area children on a shopping spree for toys. And his most impactful work came at the Nap Ford Community School, where he served as a mentor for several young boys and took them on field trips such as bowling parties and Magic games. Harris was also named the NBA’s Community Assist Award winner for the month of March and a finalist for the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, one of five NBA players selected by the Professional Basketball Writers Association for his community work over the past year.
“One of the most important things that you can give is your time, and that’s what I always try to do,” Harris said. “The kids there (at the Nap Ford Community School), they warm my heart. A lot of them come from hard times and I can’t imagine some of the things that they go through. But giving them my time and being able to spend time with them and get to know them, I think that’s the biggest thing. They see that I’m not just a basketball player and I’m a real person.
“For me, it’s just all about making a difference,” Harris continued. “It’s not about the checks; it’s more about the kids and their well-being. Knowing that his money is going to the kids and helping them have a better future, that’s what I do all of this for.”
The money that Harris has given to the Nap Ford Community School and the Orlando Community and Youth Trust over the past two years is starting to show tangible results. Dr. Porter-Smith said that Nap Ford used last year’s $25,000 grant to purchase a reading program that has greatly improved the test scores of the third grade students at her facility.
Also, Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Early said of the 30 kids who have matriculated through Nap Ford Community School, Howard Middle School, the Parramore Kidz Zone and ultimately Jones High School, all 30 are in college today.
It’s that kind of success which shows that Harris and the Magic are having monumental impacts in the Central Florida community. Harris, for one, does it with his time, with his financial resources, and most importantly with a spirit that he brings to making a difference in the lives of others.
“We’ve had a relationship with Tobias since he’s been in Orlando. We selected some young men for him to mentor and they’re doing much better in school and that’s a really strong impact,’’ Dr. Porter-Smith said. “Tobias is a very special person and the way that he’s able to connect with the boys and really mentor them through some of life’s challenges and celebrate with them when they have success, it really makes a profound difference in their lives.’’