Philanthropist “Adopts” Florida Neighborhood, Provides Education for Hundreds of Students


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Just off Orlando’s busy International Drive sits popular tourist attractions such as Universal Orlando Resort, convention centers, Disney World, mini golf parks, and outlet malls. Accommodations along this strip of prime real estate include Harris Rosen’s Rosen Inn International, Rosen Inn, and Rosen Centre Hotel which house thousands of short-term visitors every year. It’s sometimes easy to forget that in the middle of so much tourism, there are residents that call Orlando home.

One suburb that quietly sits in the shadows of these colossal tourist attractions is Tangelo Park, an orange grove-turned-residential community in the 50s for workers of the Martin Marietta plant and McCoy Air Force Base. In the past, this isolated community had very few services or transit options for residents. The community struggled with high crime rates, poor school attendance, property devaluation, and was riddled with drug problems that one resident explained were so bad that “you couldn’t even walk to the store, that’s how bad it was.” Education in Tangelo Park struggled as well; the high school graduation rate was around 30 percent.

Rosen grew up in a poor slum of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 40s and 50s as the descendant of Russian Jewish immigrants. He didn’t see anything wrong with how he, his family, and his friends lived until a tourist remarked, “So this is how they live.” He didn’t know what that meant. “Mom had to explain to us that not everyone lives this way,” he says. “And if we didn’t want to live here for the rest of our lives, we had to work hard in school and get a good education.”

Taking that advice, he received a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University and went on to have a successful career working for Disney and subsequently in his own ventures. “Epiphany might be too strong of a word…it was more of a voice. A feeling that ‘now is the time.’” says Rosen. “You’ve achieved more success than you ever imagined. It’s time now to recognize that you’ve been blessed…to be thankful and to share your good fortune with others.”

Community leaders met with Rosen and the Orange County School Board superintendent in 1993 to discuss a possible solution to these growing issues in Tangelo Park. In just an hour, with financial support guaranteed by Rosen, they developed the Tangelo Park Program (TTP). As detailed on their website, “at no cost to its citizens,” the program offers free preschool for every Tangelo Park 2-to-4 year old and “parenting classes and vocational or technical opportunities for parents with children in school.” As well, TTP gives free college tuition, room, board, and living expenses for every Tangelo Park high school graduate who is accepted to a vocational school, community college, or public university in Florida.

In the 29 years that TTP has been active, the Tangelo Park community has experienced exceptional improvement. The elementary school is now a grade-A school and the high school has a nearly 100 percent graduation rate. Over 200 students have earned their Rosen full-ride scholarships, and many of those high school graduates have been a part of the program from the very beginning. “I was part of the first generation of pre-K children in the Tangelo Park Program. Now I’m about to be the first generation of my family to go to college,” says Antionette Butler, a senior at Dr. Phillips High School.

Donna Wilcox, another Harris Rosen Scholarship recipient, earned a bachelor’s degree from UCF using her full-ride. She then went on to earn an M.A. from the University of Georgia. “When people have the resources to go and succeed, there’s a ripple effect,” she says. “It becomes generational. No one in my family ever went to college before, but now, my baby sister can’t even picture a life without college. My mother even went back and got her degree. I showed her that she could do it.”

Captain Al Rollins of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department says that he has seen the Tangelo Park community “grow,” “thrive,” and “prosper.” He says, “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Mr. Rosen has given hope—hope for the future…and the future obviously starts with the kids.”

With so many success stories, an entire community forever changed, and millions of dollars given, Rosen was asked if he ever planned to stop financially backing the program. “I will be involved in the program until Tangelo Park is a gated community and the average home is selling for $1 million. Then I’m gone.”

In 1993, the small Orlando suburb of Tangelo Park struggled with high crime rates, low high school graduation rates, and drug problems. Harris Rosen, having had much success in his business ventures thanks to the great education he received, stepped in to help his neighbors.


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Alongside community leaders, the Tangelo Park Program (TTP) was created. It offers free preschool, educational opportunities for parents, and all-expenses-paid college education for every high school graduate.


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High school graduation rates have soared from 30 percent to nearly 100 percent, and hundreds of kids have been able to attend college at no cost. The Tangelo Park community is now thriving because they have been provided hope for the future.

h/t: [UCF]

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Madyson DeJausserand

Madyson DeJausserand is a Video Editor at My Modern Met Academy and a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. She is also an award-winning filmmaker who graduated from Oakland University with a BA in Cinema Studies with a specialization in Filmmaking. Her passions for filmmaking and art bleed into her everyday life and she devotes her time to developing her voice as a filmmaker, writer, artist, and editor.
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