Dwight Howard smiled from ear to ear on Wednesday as he slid the garish Superman Snuggie on over his arms and wrapped it around his chest. The red, blue and yellow blanket was a gift from Orlando’s BETA Center, but actually it was Dwight who was doing most of the giving on this day.
Dwight donated $25,000 to the BETA Center to support the newly developed “Dwight Howard Learning Center’’ that will incorporate innovative activities to empower teen moms to achieve academic and vocational success. Services at the center will include tutoring, college preparation, self-esteem building and more. It will also provide funding to cover college application fees and test preparation booklets, instructional materials and other essential program-related supplies.
The BETA Center is a nonprofit support center designed to help and address the needs of homeless and pregnant teens. The programs there help keep the women in school and get their high school diplomas while also getting care for their children.
Dwight, a four-time winner of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award, donated $25,000 to the BETA Center for a second consecutive years. Dwight toured the facility, talked to some of the teen moms and interacted with the children, knowing full well that he can make an impact on their lives with his caring ways.
“This is what it’s all about. I understand what some of these women go through, being single parents, and I know that it’s tough for them to go to school and get their education and also have to care for a young child,’’ Dwight said. “That’s why they have the baby center for them. I came here last year and this past summer and I told my cousin that they needed a place here for the moms and the kids to learn. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him that I wanted to donate the money to help these young women out.’’
Dwight knows that beyond basketball his lasting legacy will be the work that he does off the court. Dwight is easily the most active Magic player in the community, handing out dinners for more than 400 families on Thanksgiving, giving out coats and shopping sprees during Christmas and being active at the BETA Center for the past two years. Dwight is well aware that his true legacy will be in the number of lives that he touches and not just with the number of points that he scores.
“That’s the best thing that you can do; leave a legacy. It’s not all about running up and down the court, dunking a ball or whatever. All of that stuff is going to end one day. But a place like this will live on forever,’’ Dwight said. “It means more to me to do something like this than anything else and I’m so glad that I’m here. I could be at home thinking about basketball and upcoming games, but all of that stuff doesn’t really matter; this is what really matters.
Dwight said that seeing all of the smiling faces at the BETA Center helped him forget about basketball. Instead on Wednesday the focus was on showing others how much he cares about their well-being.
“Basketball stays on the court. Whatever I do off the court means more to me than anything else,’’ Dwight said. “Coming here, going around the city and helping people out in general is one of the best things that I can do. It’s a blessing to be able to bless other people. God has me in a great position to bless other people and I want to do what I can.’’
Nineteen-year-old Leandra Taylor, whose children Adriana Austin (2) and Aaliyah Austin (2 months) stay at the facility while she continues her school work. She said that Dwight’s donation to the BETA Center is making a difference in the life of both the teen mothers and the children. She said that Dwight’s caring ways have made it possible for herself and he kids to have a bright future.
“It means a lot what Dwight does and I totally appreciate everything that he does for us here,’’ Taylor said. “Being a single parent is really hard, so getting this help is big for us. They help us out a lot here, and I’m a mother of two so they really help me out a lot here.’’