At a time when many people in America giving thanks – and watching football – Florida Citrus Sports is grateful for our partners in LIFT Orlando and the West Lakes communities that surround Camping World Stadium. Just a few short years into our collective effort to change the lives of those who live nearest to the stadium, we are beginning to see lasting, transformative results in our community.
As CEO of Florida Citrus Sports for the last 10 years, Steve Hogan was a key player not only in the effort to rebuild Camping World Stadium – the catalyst of the neighborhood transformation – but also in bringing numerous high-profile events to Orlando. However, he’s quick to cite the ongoing efforts in West Lakes as his proudest accomplishment.
“LIFT Orlando represented an opportunity to focus on the geography,” Hogan said. “You think about focusing on housing, education, health and wellness and access to training and jobs. If you do them simultaneously, you can make a huge difference in people’s lives, and change the destiny of a lot of families that had been left outside of the success conversation.”
In 2012, Hogan joined with other community leaders to found LIFT Orlando. The organization’s goal is to break the cycle of poverty in Orlando’s at-risk communities. They connected with residents in West Lakes – the neighborhoods that sit in Camping World Stadium’s shadow – to identify community needs and create pathways of progress for some of Orlando’s residents facing the toughest life challenges.
“That’s the real secret – it’s the business community coming alongside the residents of this community,” Hogan said. “The residents here said ‘Here’s what has to change in our community to go where we want it to go, to be the type of community we want to be.’ They created that.”
Hogan says hard work, listening and building trust and communication were keys to getting to this point. While the goal has yet to be fully-achieved, LIFT Orlando has seen great progress thusfar:
- Land was acquired and cleared to pave the way for groundbreaking of a new affordable housing complex in early 2017.
- Florida Citrus Sports and the City of Orlando are laying the groundwork to redevelop Lake Lorna Doone Park, which was once a haven for neighborhood athletes and recreational activities.
- LIFT Orlando helped connect more West Lakes children to Florida Citrus Sports’ free summer camp program, which has now expanded to a year-round “MVP Families” program encouraging parents to take an active role in their child’s education.
- Through the College Football Playoff Foundation and their Extra Yard For Teachers project, FCSports was able to fully fund 100% of classroom projects at schools within the West Lakes footprint, including Legends Academy, Orange Center Elementary and Jones High School.
Though much of LIFT Orlando’s progress is unprecedented in this community, the mission is a natural progression of Florida Citrus Sports’ historic vision.
“Being here 21 years now and in the West Lakes neighborhood — this is where I come to work, this is where our events exist – we’ve always been rooted in children and education,” Hogan said. “All the way back to 1947, the first bowl game benefitted the children’s hospital in Umatilla, Florida. Our summer camps have been 20 years of innovation with kids on free and reduced lunch program. We’ve always been there.”
Hogan and Florida Citrus Sports look to continue being there through continued collaboration with LIFT Orlando and West Lakes residents, pursuing a collective story of success to share and replicate.
“Wouldn’t that be the real win in the change of what Camping World Stadium has become?” Hogan said. “Not the events that we’re getting, but looking back in 10 years and saying we made a huge difference, together with the people who live here.
“That’s going to be the story – residents, the business community and what a facility and sports can do to change lives. That will be the real winner.”