ORLANDO, Fla (WOFL FOX 35) - There are thousands of rooms in seven properties that are part of the multi-million dollar hotel chain that Harris Rosen has built in Orlando’s tourism district. Rosen’s name is on almost every one.
What guests of Rosen hotels don’t usually know is what the business owner has created in the shadow of Orlando’s tourism district in a neighborhood called Tangelo Park.
“What we've done essentially here is we've infused hope in the neighborhood,” Rosen told FOX 35.He’s created that hope through education. "About 25 years ago it occurred to me that I had been blessed beyond anything I had ever imagined and it was time for me to say thank you God and create an educational program for children who needed a helping hand,” Rosen said.
The educational program takes care of kids of all ages who live in Tangelo Park, a working-class neighborhood where parents work hard. Kids go to daycare and pre-school. Eventually they go to college.Rosen pays for it all.
Rosen wasn’t always a millionaire who could pay to educate an entire neighborhood. He grew up in New York City. "A neighborhood referred to as Hell's Kitchen and my parents both really emphasized education. Particularly my mom,” Rosen said. “My brother and myself had to do well in school and had to go to college. Nobody else in the family had gone to college,” he continued.
Now he uses his millions to make sure kids in Tangelo Park are educated early by funding nine in-home day-care centers for children as young as two.
When FOX 35 visited the home run by Georgia Gordon, the children were learning their letters.
Gordon, who has been part of the Tangelo Park daycare program form more than twenty years, said the program helps the parents as much as the kids.
“They can go to work. They can have children at a reputable daycare. Not paying any money for daycare. And that gives the parents hope that they can go back to school,” Gordon said.
The kids in Tangelo Park are going far. "When they start kindergarten, they're so far ahead of their peers and that advantage stays with them throughout elementary school and middle school and high school and that's why so many of our kids are going to college,” Rosen said.
Kamillia Crawford spent her high school years in Tangelo Park, which meant she had a full ride to the University of Central Florida thanks to the Rosen Foundation Scholarship, which gives a scholarship to any public college in the Florida to students who spend their junior and senior years of high school living in Tangelo Park.
"My GPA is 3.96,” Crawford told FOX 35. She is graduating this spring with the Order of the Pegasus award, one of the university’s top honors which is awarded for academic excellence and volunteerism. Crawford said the scholarship allowed her to focus on her studies and give back to the community.
"I can get my education, do the things that I desire and also volunteer in the community and give back my time. It's really the least I can do with the opportunity that I've been given,” Crawford said.
More than 400 kids in Tangelo Park have had the same opportunity for the past twenty-two years and Rosen has noticed a trend: the program is spending more of his money on pre-school and less on college scholarships.
"Well much to our glee, we discovered that the reason we're using less funding for college is because the youngsters are qualifying for so many other scholarships so Rosen has become a safety net,” Rosen said.
That safety net is getting bigger. Rosen had hoped another millionaire would see the positive changes in Tangelo Park—which also include very low crime rates and increasing property values—and replicate his model in other struggling communities, like Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood.
No one has, so he is. This year 17 students who live in Parramore are getting a Rosen Foundation Scholarship, too. A program for the little kids will follow. "It will impact every aspect of their lives in the neighborhood and impact their future in a very dramatic way. So they can dream, so they do have hope, so they can go to graduate school and become doctors or get their MBA or whatever it is they want,” Rosen said.
Or maybe they’ll build a hotel empire, and adopt a neighborhood of their own.