The Otis F. Smith Foundation
(and later, the Otis Smith Kids Foundation) was a 501(c)(3)
non-profit organization that partnered with targeted Jacksonville, Florida
elementary schools to provide programs and services to disadvantaged children in the areas of education, personal development and recreation. It was one of the first “celebrity” charitable foundations in the First Coast
region that supported initiatives to help at-risk youth and was active for almost two decades.
was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida and played sports at the local Boy’s Club while growing up. Since his college days at Jacksonville University
, he was involved with Volunteers for Youth
, Big Brothers Big Sisters
, Boys and Girls Clubs of America
and conducted informal basketball clinics during summers. When Smith returned to Florida in 1989 to play professional basketball for the Orlando Magic
, he founded the Otis F. Smith Foundation
which began hosting summer basketball clinics for kids.
The mission of the Otis Smith Kids Foundation (OSKF
) was to improve the quality of life and outlook for the future for Northeast Florida children between the ages of 6 and 12 by providing quality programs and services in the areas of education, recreation, personal growth and development.
The foundation's activities were expanded into neighborhoods and elementary schools considered economically and academically challenged. Their programs included free summer day camps, after-school tutoring and enrichment programs during the school year such as holiday parties and field trips to sporting events, cultural institutions & local attractions. Health screenings were one of the last services provided. Throughout the 1990’s the organization expanded and programs flourished.
The charity, with an annual budget of about $400,000 and four full-time employees, never received government funds. A good measure of a charity’s effectiveness is the percentage of donations actually spent of programs. A well run organization should keep that percentage above 75%. In a review of local foundations connected to professional athletes, the Otis Smith Kids Foundation rated highly, with 78.6% for 2005.
The annual Jaspers Celebrity Golf Classic in the spring, and in later years, the Florida Sports Awards show, were responsible for generating about 70 percent of the foundation's funding during the first ten years of operation.
The golf function was the first cash cow for the foundation and was a good money-maker throughout the 1990s. That success encouraged other groups to emulate the activity, and the increased competition from literally dozens of charity golf tournaments resulted in lower participation and fewer sponsorships, to the point where in 2005, the tournament was just breaking even. In 2005, at least 15 sports star charities operated in the Jacksonville area and most, if not all of them, held a charity golf tournament.
Since its first appearance on live television in 1996 as the event that benefited the Otis F. Smith Foundation charity, the Florida Sports Awards had grown to the point of being recognized as a local version of the ESPYs
. Over the years, the profitability of the Florida Sports Awards show was reduced as production costs increased. Andy Jacobs, president of First Coast Sports Awards, Inc. and driving force behind the event, submitted his resignation in February, 2002 but stayed in his $106,500 job until September 2002.
When he heard that the directors of First Coast Sports Awards, Inc. had dropped the show he created, Jacobs said he was dismayed that it had been canceled due to lack of sponsorship. Jacobs felt that board members waited too long in getting his replacement on board, which contributed to the show's demise. "They could have sold the show to other sponsors," said Jacobs, who also resigned his position on the Otis Smith Kids Foundation's board. "It was a questionable decision to remove an asset that significant to your organization's fiscal lifeline without any plan to replace it, then bring in a new executive director and expect him to succeed."
However, when the 7th annual awards were held on June 8th, Jacob knew that his replacement had not been hired, and in the period between the show and his departure in September, he apparently did nothing to replace the sponsorship deals with First Union, the Jacksonville Economic & Development Commission and AT&T Wireless worth approximately $300,000 along with an advertising deal with the Florida Times-Union that expired in 2002.
Competition for charity dollars since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 became more intense. Corporations reduced their support because business conditions became more difficult. In November, 2002, the Otis F. Smith Foundation
was renamed the Otis Smith Kids Foundation
in an attempt to emphasize that kids were the focus. Two of the most visible projects in recent years involved life-sized statues.
Sea Cows for Kids
Just like Cincinnati
's Big Pig Gig
's Cows on Parade
, these fiberglass manatees
were part of a 2004-2005 fund-raising effort for the foundation. A total of 43 colorfully decorated, life-like fiberglass manatees took up residence throughout the city, beginning in September, 2004--in time for Super Bowl XXXIX
--and remained until the end of February, 2005. They were cleaned up and prepared for the Great Sea Cow Roundup and Auction
, held April 2nd at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds.
After the Roundup & Auction concluded, the winning bidders loaded them up and moved their new artwork to back yards and business locations.
Big Cats for Kids
Using the same formula as the successful Sea Cows for Kids program, Big Cats for Kids was kicked off in 2006. A total of 53 entities paid $5000 each to sponsor the Cat of their choice. The theme-decorated Big Cats were displayed in locations all over Jacksonville for almost a year before being sold.
More than 400 people attended Jammies & Jeans: The Cats Pajamas Party on July 10, 2007 where 41 of the 53 big cats were auctioned off to their FURever homes (the other 12 cats were adopted by their SPOTsors prior to the auction). Vincent Van Jaguar sold at the auction for $12,000, but the average price was $2,900. The project was a FURnomenal success, raising more than $220,000.
The foundation’s demise
After 18 years, and with the reliable financial support activities gone, the Otis Smith Kids Foundation closed its doors at the end of 2007. Smith announced its' demise in a news release on August 29, 2007.
Linda Lanier, executive director of the Jacksonville Children's Commission, a city agency that funds children's programs, gasped when told of the foundation's closing. Not only was the foundation known for its after-school programs, Lanier said, "but it spoke for the kind of inspiration that children needed."
"With successful programs and services being provided by folks like Mal Washington, Tony Boselli, Mike Peterson and others," Smith said in the release, "we're confident that the deserving children of Jacksonville are in great hands, and we are honored to have had the opportunity to make an impact on this community over the years."
Board members cited the current economic environment, in addition to increased competition for corporate and private donations, as dominant factors in the decision-making process.
A final gift to Jacksonville's children are three scholarship programs.
The scholarship program at Florida Community College at Jacksonville
was the recipient of an endowment from the OSKF.
Bonnie Upright, the foundation's executive director, said the scholarship program is an endowment that will continue. Any child who has been enrolled in one of the foundation's activities can apply for the FCCJ scholarship, she said, not only for academic studies but also for vocational courses.
Since its inception in 1989, the Otis F. Smith Foundation has touched the lives of more than 10,000 at-risk elementary school students, Upright said, each of whom now has the opportunity to attend college at no cost.
The OSKF donated $56,000 to the University of North Florida
to establish an endowed scholarship fund in support of the Florida First Generation Scholarship Program for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
The state of Florida will match the gift with $2,300 annually, funding two scholarships each year.
The OSKF donated $50,000 to the Jacksonville University
athletics department to establish and endow the Otis Smith Scholarship
to a deserving local student-athlete. The donation was announced during halftime of a basketball game designated as "Otis Smith Night" on November 28, 2007. The honoree was unable to attend, but left a pre-recorded video. In a surprise to athletic officials, Smith stated that he was personally matching the $50,000 donation by the Otis Smith Kids Foundation, for a total gift of $100,000.