ORLANDO, Fla. - Harris Rosen sat down to play blocks with several children in Tangelo Park and asked what they were building. All the kids said they were building a house.
"I'm doing a hotel," Rosen announced.
It seems the Orlando hotelier always dreams big, whether playing with blocks or far exceeding the expectations of his parents, who immigrated to America from Russia. They hoped he'd work hard and become an IBM typewriter salesman.
"What his parents dreamed for him came far short of what became reality," said Joshua Rosen, one of Harris Rosen's four children.
He was fired from Disney because he couldn't be a "company man." Then, he risked his life savings to buy a hotel on International Drive in 1974. Now he owns several hotels and resorts on I-Drive and is a successful self-made millionaire.
"This is really the American dream personified," Harris Rosen said.
He wants children who grew up in underserved communities like he did, in New York's lower east side, to have a shot at that dream as well. He's donated millions of dollars over 20 years to the Tangelo Park community so that every student who gets into college will have a full-ride scholarship.
The program engages with local community leaders and organizations to provide preschool for children as young as two in order to get them a head start on their education.
But for a man who dreams as big as Rosen, helping just one community raise high school graduation rates from 25 to nearly 100 percent is not enough.
Rosen said he wants to duplicate the program beyond Tangelo Park and thinks he can create the same success in Orlando's Parramore community.
"I don't think, I know. There's no doubt about," Rosen said.
And he doesn't want to stop there. Recently he was meeting with Dr. Bernice King and other members of Dr. Martin Luther King's family to receive an award in Atlanta for his work. Rosen said, as usual, he hadn't prepared what he was going to say. When it came time to speak, he looked at her and about a thousand people and asked, "Dr. King, can I have a dream?"
The crowd went crazy.
Then, Rosen said, "My dream is to make sure that there is a Tangelo Park program in every underserved community in the United States of America."
Even though some people don't feel like it's their responsibility to help underserved communities, Rosen said there's "so many others who really have a good heart and really want to do good stuff, but they don't know exactly what to do."
Rosen said his Tangelo Park program can serve as a template for them, and he already has his eyes set on big names he hopes will help.
"We'll get the Gates guys, we'll get Buffet guys, we'll get the Whole Foods, we'll get the Walmart," Rosen said. "We'll get them all on line and say, 'Come on!'"
Some may think his latest dream is too big. But Rosen has proved plenty of people wrong before, from his parents to Disney, by achieving what others thought was merely a fantasy.
And if you tell Rosen's son his father's dream is too big, he'll quickly correct you.
"That's simply not true. He already touched so many lives and will touch so many more with expansion into Parramore," Joshua Rosen said. "And all it takes is a few of those kids to be well off enough and realize their helping hand maybe merits them giving a helping hand, and it will be a chain reaction of assistance. Maybe they'll support an entire community or maybe just one person. And from there, you know, it may take generations, but I think this small Tangelo Park program, down the road, will be huge."
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