group twice ignored notice of $6.8 million donation | Jax Daily Record | Jacksonville Daily Record

Northeast Florida Boys and Girls Clubs President and CEO Paul Martinez has twice deleted emails offering his organization a $6.8 million grant.

He thought it was spam.

Earlier this year, Martinez said that while scrolling through his roughly 200 daily emails, one caught his eye. An unsolicited source wanted to award the regional branch $6.8 million. He immediately deleted the email.

When the second came a day or two later, he deleted it again.

“I start each day with a prayer. I always pray that we find the resources to make this place work. I don’t pray for money. It’s about whether God gives me good people or other resources to make this place work,” Martinez said.

“I thought it was a scam on the order of you can get $5 million if you send $50,000.”

However, when he received a third message while checking his work emails at home at 9 p.m., his curiosity was piqued.

He responded by asking the person to call the office the next day at 2 p.m.

“I still didn’t think much about it. I didn’t even put it on my calendar,” he said.

Quickly at 2 p.m., his phone rang. An unidentified woman said her service group loved what the club was doing in Jacksonville and wanted to give millions to the branch.

The club was one of 62 in the country selected to receive the money.

The caller said a third party would contact in a few days to transfer the money. Martinez now thought it was worth pursuing.

That’s when Bob Tedeschi, the club’s chief financial officer, stepped in. When Martinez told him about the emails and the phone call, he had an immediate reaction.

“It’s spam,” Tedeschi said.

“Paul is always a guy who is overflowing with glass. I’m definitely a glass half empty guy.

At Martinez’s request, Tedeschi wiped out one of the club’s little-used accounts, leaving only $5 in it, to prepare for the potential transfer. He also worked with the bank to ensure no withdrawals could be made.

Then the account number was given to the mystery donor.

On the morning of the second day, Martinez asked about the account. Tedeschi told Martinez to forget about it.

They were planning the grand opening of their offices on Newnan Street that day. There were plenty of other things to do.

Around noon, Martinez was startled by a “Holy shit!” from the nearby office of Tedeschi.

The account had $6,800,005.

The name of the anonymous group that donated the money was identified by The New York Times as Lost Horse, a Delaware front company.

The source of the funds was MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of billionaire Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.

In 2019, Bezos transferred 19.7 million shares of her Amazon holdings as part of their divorce settlement, making her one of the richest women in the world.

She has pledged billions and in total has donated $281 million to Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

His largest known donation was $436 million to Habitat for Humanity, according to the Times.

What to do with the windfall

The annual budget for Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida, not including windfall, is about $14 million, Tedeschi said.

Of that, 65% comes from federal, state, and municipal grants. The rest comes from local fundraising.

The grant came without conditions. Martinez was told to keep doing what he was doing.

“They believe the people who run the place know better than to make money than themselves,” Martinez said of Scott’s philanthropy.

Since Martinez joined the group in 2016, he has grown from 12 clubs to 38 in Duval, Nassau, St. Johns and Alachua counties. Most are in parks or schools.

He would like to use the money to expand services in Clay County and other underserved areas in the region.

Boys and Girls Clubs provide members with a hot meal, homework tutoring and recreation. During the summer, kids can visit McKenzie’s Camp Deep Pond in Hilliard. The camp is not associated with Scott.

“If we’ve done our job right, our kids will walk down the aisle on graduation night,” Martinez said. Her group has a 98% high school graduation rate.

Northeast Florida Boys and Girls Clubs are open to children ages 6-18.

There is a four-pronged approach to serving their teenage members.

The club introduces them to two- and four-year colleges through on-campus tours, with interested students receiving assistance with applying and finding scholarships.

The club also introduces teenagers to trade schools and works closely with the J-Tech Institute for automotive repair and diagnostics.

The army, as the biggest employer in the city, is an option that offers career opportunities.

There is also entrepreneurship. The Citi Teen Center at 10th and Liberty streets in Springfield offers dance and recording studios, a hair salon, nail salon, and print shop. At the center, teens can explore their career interests in the arts and music.

The Boys & Girls Clubs partnered with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to make the teen center a substation for the bicycle unit.

“It gives kids a different light to see the police in and the police can see the kids in a different light,” Martinez said.

A note of apology

After seeing that the money was real, Martinez reflected on the good fortune.

“Once I saw the money was there on screen, I thought, what a jerk. I felt compelled to write a note of apology.

Martinez said he had to tell mystery donors he was sorry for doubting them.

“I forgot there is still good in this world,” he said.

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