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Although now with Lakers, Dwight Howard's presence is still felt in Orlando

His charitable endeavors in the city where he spent the first eight seasons of his NBA career are ongoing and, he says, 'won't stop because I'm on a new team in a new city.'

February 09, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • The Lakers' Dwight Howard visits with teen mothers and their children at the BETA Center in Orlando, which houses and serves at-risk teen mothers and their children.
The Lakers' Dwight Howard visits with teen mothers and their children… (BETA Center )

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Not everyone here feels abandoned by Dwight Howard.

A young mother has been able to remain in the United States with her two daughters because of legal assistance provided by the Lakers center since he left the Orlando Magic.

A pregnant teen about to go into delivery received a ride to a hospital in a car that Howard donated.

High school students who collected coats and socks through Howard's D12 Foundation continue to be inspired by his vision for improving the community.

As far as Howard's charitable endeavors go, it's almost as if he never left.

Late last year, he donated $25,000 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida that the organization was able to double through a matching gifts campaign to help refurbish a service center.

He also recently gave a $20,000 matching gift to the BETA Center, which provides housing and other assistance for teen mothers and at-risk families. The facility used the money to employ a full-time nurse and replace high chairs in its lunch room.

"Dwight may have changed his address, but his heart remains with BETA," Lisa Blackwelder, the organization's director of development, told supporters at a gala in August after Howard was traded to the Lakers.

Howard's D12 Foundation hasn't uprooted, maintaining an office in Orlando. Among other endeavors, it will continue to provide summer lunches for students at Lake Como Elementary School in an impoverished area.

Howard said he's never going to ditch the city that he called home from the time he was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft until his blockbuster trade to the Lakers in August.

"I spent eight years trying to build the city up with everything in Orlando and it won't stop because I'm on a new team in a new city," Howard said Saturday. "I'm going to continue to still help out, continue to do whatever I can from afar to build that city up."

He has remained in touch with a mother from the BETA Center who was in a legal quandary. A foreign national, she faced the possibility of deportation that could have separated her from two daughters who are U.S. citizens by birth.

That is, until Superman came to the rescue.

"They were basically trying to send her back home and have somebody else take care of her kids," said Howard, who provided legal support. "I wanted to do whatever I could do for her to stay in the States to help her raise her kids. I understand how important it is for her to be around her kids. She's a young mom and she needed help. So I talked to her, I talked to her kids. I'll do whatever I can from afar to really help the situation."

Lending a hand is nothing new to Howard in Orlando.

Before becoming a Laker, he had contributed $50,000 to a learning center at the BETA Center that allows mothers and pregnant teens to do their homework and correspond with relatives through 10 computers.

He had given $30,000 for a Dwight Howard room at the Florida Hospital for Children in which giggling kids still play video games to this day.

He also presented $25,000 to Orlando's Parramore Kidz Zone, which provides after-school programs and other services intended to help children become successful adults.

"He was very, very active and honestly kind of set the tone for everybody else with his involvement in the community," said Magic guard J.J. Redick, who often finished as runner-up to Howard for the team's community service award.

The one thing Howard can no longer provide on a regular basis is his presence. And that's a void that no check could ever fill.

Tina Ashe, director of marketing and communications for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, recalled how Howard patiently explained prudent shopping practices to children he had taken to a local shoe store with $100 each to spend.

"He would say, 'OK, you have $100. Do you want to buy one pair or maybe look at the sale rack over here and maybe get a little bit less expensive shoes and now you can get socks?'"Ashe said.

"When he was talking to them about that, they started thinking about it and some of our members would go to the sale rack and buy something for them and then buy something for their little brother or sister so they would have socks or shoes too."

Even though he is roughly 2,200 miles away, Howard's drive to help others still motivates members of his foundation's youth advisory board who complete community service projects such as clothing drives.

"We feel as if we are taking huge strides in improving the lives of youth and families in our area," said Alicia Tarver, a senior at Winter Park High. "The youth advisory board gives us a sense of significance and importance, because while helping to develop others' lives, we are also expanding our own."

While Howard has not established any formal relationships with L.A.-area charities, he said he has helped a few organizations in ways he doesn't want to publicize. It has never been about seeking credit for him.

"I'm going to continue to do something out there," Howard said. "It's not about me doing it for recognition. I'm doing it because it's something I love doing."

Scores of women and children in Orlando would tell you the same thing.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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