Adopting a Whole Neighborhood (Tangelo Park)

  • Local Projects
  • 1993

Just a quarter of a mile from the tourist centers of Orlando, Florida, sat a squalid neighborhood plagued with drug problems and lousy schooling. Harris Rosen, who had made his fortune building and operating hotels in the area, decided to personally do something about this. He developed and funded a simple approach to improving the lives of local families.

First, Rosen created a string of good quality, small, home-based preschools across the neighborhood—by offering to renovate space in residents’ houses and provide all operating funds if they would become trained as teachers. All two-, three-, and four-year-old children in the low-income neighborhood may attend these schools free of charge. Then Rosen offered an incentive at the other end of the childhood spectrum: a full scholarship, including books and travel, for any neighborhood resident who graduated from high school and got accepted into a Florida two- or four-year public college or vocational program. Support was recruited from other philanthropies and civic groups in the neighborhood like the Tangelo Park Baptist Church, the local YMCA, and the area schools.

The results are impressive. The neighborhood’s elementary school has earned “A” ratings on the Florida standardized annual exam for five of the past seven years—one of only two or three low-income schools in the state to earn the top rating. High-school graduation rates, which were below 50 percent when the program started, are now close to 100 percent. More than half of neighborhood youngsters go to college. Crime rates are down, property values have tripled, and new families are moving into the neighborhood. As of 2015, Harris Rosen had injected $11 million of his money into improving Tangelo Park, and he continues to spend about $500,000 per year on his program.

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