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‘Helping Others Help Themselves’

Central Florida is fortunate to have a strong presence of nonprofits and philanthropic organizations that strive to uplift the community in various ways. But even in that crowded landscape, Dr. Phillips Charities manages to stand out with its staying power, unique background and far-reaching impact.

Comprised of two distinct divisions—Dr. Phillips Inc. and The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation—it carries on the legacy of Dr. Philip Phillips, an influential businessman in the region during the first half of the 20th century, and his wife Della, who became well-known for their tremendous generosity throughout their lives. The family motto was, “Helping others help themselves,” and today Dr. Phillips Charities lives those words by supporting a number of worthy causes.

“Our focus is to honor the donor intent, and the donors are Dr. Phillips, Della Phillips and Howard Phillips, their son,” says Kenneth D. Robinson, president and CEO of Dr. Phillips Charities.

“So we try to emulate what we believe they would have been doing today. The areas you see us focus on most heavily are one, [the geographic region of] Central Florida—the vast majority of our money stays in Orange and Osceola counties. And two, in the areas that we look to help, and that’s health care, education, children and youth services, and the arts. We want to do what the Phillips family would have wanted to do with their money.”

Robinson calls Dr. Phillips “a tremendous entrepreneur and marketer” who was ahead of his time in building a business empire in the citrus industry. In the 1950s, he established the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation, which was created to provide funding to area nonprofits and help get to the root causes of problems impacting the community. 

Dr. Phillips Inc. was formed after the passing of Howard Phillips, the last stockholder in the family business. It supports 13 different organizations through its portfolio of investments, including commercial real estate. While there isn’t much collaboration between the two different arms, the board of directors for each are almost identical.

“It’s very unique,” Robinson says of the setup. “We haven’t seen that model much out there but it’s part of our ethos, who we were with large real estate holdings from the citrus operations. Still having those real estate holdings puts us in a different position than most nonprofits, who invest their money almost exclusively in the stock and fixed income markets. Half of ours sits in those markets and the other half sits in the real estate.”

Some of the groups that have benefited from grants through Dr. Phillips Charities are AdventHealth Foundation Central Florida, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, The Heritage Foundation, Central Florida YMCA and Pacific Legal Foundation.

“We support organizations that meet the missions and are consistent with what the Phillips family liked to serve,” Robinson says. “We want to find organizations that have good management structure, good focus on their mission and vision of what they’re trying to accomplish, that are good stewards of the financial money that’s entrusted to them, and have an impact in the areas they serve.”

One of the major projects Dr. Phillips is currently involved in is redevelopment of the Packing District, land along Orange Blossom Trail near College Park that the family took ownership of in the 1920s. The 202-acre site is being transitioned from an industrial property to one that will feature a regional park, a YMCA, fields, a pavilion and a 4Roots urban farm from John Rivers. There will also be a mixed-use space with a food hall, multi-family housing, offices and retail. 

“We’re very excited about using our real estate to impact the community,” Robinson says.

Another encouraging initiative is Dr. Phillips’ partnership with AdventHealth to improve mental and behavioral health for children. Last year, the organization awarded a $6 million grant to create the Center for Advancement and Support of Youth (CASY), the first program of its kind in Central Florida.

“We know that COVID has had a dramatic impact on [kids’] lives so we wanted to bring mental health and mainstream it into the pediatricians’ offices and into the community—to de-stigmatize it and make it accessible to the community so that we can help these children through these difficult times,” Robinson says. “AdventHealth is doing a spectacular job with this program. We couldn’t be any prouder to be involved with it.”

Della Phillips in particular was a strong supporter of the arts, and that continues to be a focus for the organization. One of its largest grants ever, totaling $35 million, went to the construction of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and it also works with the Orlando Philharmonic, the Orlando Ballet and United Arts of Central Florida. Education is also of the utmost importance, as evidenced by its programs benefiting the Orange County and Osceola County school districts.

Dr. Phillips Charities’ board of directors feature influential leaders from a number of industries. Robinson started as a board member around 2008 and became president in 2013.

“For me it is a dream position,” he says. “It is something that I could never imagine achieving and I’m excited to sit in this spot. I get to manage a business all day long that generates revenues that we give back to the community. I enjoy it immensely.

“The most important thing that we do is to honor the Phillips family, focus on donor intent of what they did and impact our community. That’s our purpose, our focus and running a business like we do every day makes it even more impactful because we can continue to grow the organization and every year give out a little more money than we did in the prior years.”