Mickey Fitzgerald's charity gang tackle
A hard-knock life inspires a former pro football player, now an entrepreneur, to take underprivileged kids under his wing.
(FSB Magazine) POWDER SPRINGS, GA. -- Every winter Mickey Fitzgerald gathers his corporate team and best clients for their biggest project of the year: Christmas shopping for the 28 abandoned children who live at the Calvary Children's Home in Powder Springs, Ga. Of course, business owners have always asked colleagues and customers to contribute to their favorite charity.
But Fitzgerald, the founder and CEO of Dynamic Orthotics & Prosthetics, has used the networking and leadership skills he honed as a successful entrepreneur and pro football player to create his own manner of giving: When he approaches hospital administrators and doctors who use the medical equipment he distributes, he doesn't simply request donations but hands them the children's letters and Christmas lists and asks them to make those wishes come true.
And he isn't satisfied with merely delivering the gifts alone; he invites his donors to visit Calvary and give their offerings to the children themselves. Every Christmas he and his group arrive at the home for the annual party - he decked out as Santa and pulling into the driveway on a fire truck, followed by a parade of cars packed with thousands of dollars' worth of electronics, clothing, toys, and gift certificates.
In this way Fitzgerald has turned his employees and clients into steady supporters of his cause. Each year they treat the children to so many presents that all those festively wrapped packages hardly fit under the tree.
Fitzgerald's story began more than 40 years ago, when his mother dropped him and his two brothers off at a Catholic orphanage just outside his hometown of Lynchburg, Va. Her lover had been shot. She had witnessed the whole scene and felt she could no longer handle parenting.
At the orphanage Fitzgerald hid in the corner a lot. The nuns, he recalls, had a penchant for smacking kids with a ruler. Luckily a priest named Father Paul looked after the boys. "He took us to ball games," Fitzgerald says. "He dedicated a lot of his time to us."
About two years later, Fitzgerald's grandmother took them home. Mickey started high school, where, it turns out, he played football well enough to attract scholarship offers. He ended up playing fullback at Virginia Tech and then in the NFL, first with the Atlanta Falcons and later with the Philadelphia Eagles.
After five years, however, his athletic career screeched to a halt. Multiple injuries and seven knee surgeries left him with a bad limp. His run of good luck appeared to be over.
But it wasn't. While wandering about and talking to doctors during a hospital stay, he learned that spinal surgeons couldn't tell how patients were faring until they woke up. Appalled, he sought out a scientist who had developed a neural monitoring device that tracks vital signs in the spine during surgery. Fitzgerald brought it to market, launching a business that made millions. His orphanage days seemed light-years away.
That changed in 1996. While speaking at a local Rotary Club, Fitzgerald met Snyder Turner, the administrator of Calvary Children's Home, and saw in him a chance to pay back Father Paul. By then Fitzgerald had already given tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships and donations through an NFL alumni charity.
But after meeting Turner, he threw his efforts behind the home, not only by providing Christmas presents but also by taking the kids on outings to fairs, the zoo, and ball games, and sometimes asking his employees and customers to come along.
"We always have more fun with Mr. Mickey," said one young Calvary resident. And so do Fitzgerald's clients. "It's like taking a child to a candy store," says Anisa Daftari, who, with her husband, Tapan Daftari, started sponsoring an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the home after meeting the children at Fitzgerald's Christmas party. "It makes everyone so happy."click here.