SUNRISE, Fla. - When it comes to helping local children in need, there are few former athletes in South Florida that have been doing more than Miami Dolphins legendary defensive end Jason Taylor.
In July 2004, the Jason Taylor Foundation was established with the goal of supporting and creating programs that would aid and empower South Florida's local youths by improving their health care, education, quality of life and overall preparation for future opportunities.
Since its inception, Taylor's foundation has impacted tens of thousands of children by contributing more than $5,000,000 to fund innovative services and programming, including The Jason Taylor Reading Room, Cool Gear for the School Year, the Jason Taylor Children's Learning Center, Jason Taylor Scholars and the Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network, among others.
"It's important for young people to have people and programs around them that are consistent, positive and that help them build towards a future," said Taylor, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. "That consistency is key. For a kid to know that someone cares about them and they will be there for them is absolutely priceless and can truly shape who that child becomes.
"For me, I had coaches and some others in my life that made a far bigger impact than what they probably even realize. That is what we try to provide to the kids we work with through the foundation."
As part of their continued commitment to improving the local community, the Florida Panthers Foundation Community Champions Grant Program, presented by Moss Construction and the Moss Foundation, awarded $25,000 to the Jason Taylor Foundation on Saturday.
"The Miami Dolphins have been incredibly supportive, and Jason is obviously a former Dolphin, but when an organization like the Florida Panthers says that we are doing good work, it's about the work that we're doing and a welcome validation," said Seth Levit, the foundation's executive director. "It's high profile. The reach the Panthers have is endless. It's a new audience for us in a lot of ways. And, again, it's just that validation that says we're doing it the right way."
While there are many deserving areas in which the Panthers' donation could be used, Levit says that the majority will go towards funding the foundation's Louder Than A Bomb Florida Poetry Festival, which is currently taking place from March 27 until April 8, 2017.
The 13-day festival, which will conclude in a championship showdown at the Epstein Center for the Arts at Nova Southeastern University on April 8, is the culmination of the foundation's year-round effort to provide meaningful instruction inside the classroom and after-school clubs by encouraging teachers to promote individual and collective expression.
The friendly spoken-word competition, which had several members of the Panthers staff sitting in as guest judges during Tuesday's opening round, features the top poetry teams from high schools in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.
"The timing could not have been better," Levit said. "We have almost 40 high schools, from Miami-Dade all the way up to Port St. Lucie County, that have poetry teams. It's going to be a March Madness-style competition. There are prelims all over the county and then the top-16 teams will move on. After that, we'll have a four-team final before crowning the top poetry team in the state."
If you'd like to know more about the poetry festival, or simply want to donate or volunteer within other charitable branches of the foundation, make sure to visit JasonTaylorFoundation.com.
"We rely heavily on volunteers," Levit said. "We can always use the help."