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Stein teaches others to give back



David Stein backs up his beliefs with actions. Although he is one of Jacksonville’s most prominent philanthropists, he doesn’t seek the spotlight. He doesn’t boast about his contributions to the community but rather quietly hopes his donations serve and motivate others. His latest gift to the University of North Florida is an example of how he strives to help others — in this case by establishing fellowships for his beloved “Steiners.”


Steiners, a name selected by his students and not by Stein, are UNF students who are recipients of undergraduate scholarships from an endowment he established in 1999 with a $1 million gift.


Since then, 65 students have received this undergraduate assistance.  However, a number of his Steiners have expressed a desire to go on to graduate school at UNF. To help these students, Stein decided to create a bequest for an additional $1 million for fellowships, with preference given to Steiners — and to fund the fellowships until the bequest becomes effective.


“I did this because it will help these students go to graduate school and indirectly will benefit the metro area when they give back to the community. I’ve spent my entire life in the same zip code. I love this community,” he said.


Stein’s involvement in UNF began when then-President Adam Herbert asked him to consider establishing a permanent undergraduate scholarship program. He did so but decided he would be a hands-on donor.


He loves interacting with his scholarship students in a variety of ways. He annually sponsors a professionally managed retreat at the Stein Ranch for his scholars and encourages them to volunteer in community projects such as HabiJax, Habitat for Humanity or the Sulzbacher Center, a Jacksonville homeless shelter.


He also takes his scholars on trips to the Mayor’s Office, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office or JaxPort. “I want them to learn how the city works and how they might make a contribution someday to its future,” he said.


Joshua Woods is one Steiner who is learning to make a contribution to the community. Stein served as a grandfather figure for Woods, who lost his own grandfather as a result of Hurricane Katerina in 2005. “Papa Stein and Mama Linda,” as Woods refers to Stein and his wife Linda, became scholarship benefactors who understood his commitment to be a “community changer.”


He completed three internships as a Steiner, the most memorable being one with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008.  “The season I spent with the Jaguars was a confidence booster and revealed to me that I was capable of accomplishing anything I set my mind to,” Woods said.


Stein has agreed to fund Woods’ master’s degree in sport administration at UNF.  “I cannot thank my Papa and Mama Stein enough for their love and support. I commit to honoring them ever step along the way of my pathway toward success,” Woods said.


Len Roberson, dean of the Graduate School, hopes to recruit more graduate students by offering a greater number of graduate fellowships.


“Without this, we may not be able to recruit the number nor the quality of graduate students we want and need,” Roberson said. “The Stein Graduate Fellowships will go a long away in allowing UNF to recruit talented graduate students and ensure they are able to complete their programs of study.”


Stein hopes other donors will get similarly involved with their scholars, as it not only helps scholars but also is personally rewarding.


Stein is also a major donor to the Disability Resource Center on campus, which is part of his long-term commitment to this segment of the population. Earlier, he spearheaded a capital campaign to provide a permanent home for the Greenwood School, a $6 million facility opened in 2002 to serve the educational needs of 200 children with learning disabilities. Though the Greenwood School is not affiliated with UNF, it does highlight the importance Stein places on education at all levels.


Stein and his wife are also major donors to the United Way’s Community Fund, Jacksonville’s Jewish Community Alliance, a local hospice and numerous other organizations.


Few people would have predicted Stein’s philanthropic activities when he was a young man. His first job was flipping burgers at his father’s Burger King restaurant on Beach Boulevard long before it became a national chain. It wasn’t long before he took over management of the restaurants in Jacksonville and engineered a business turnaround that eventually launched the fast-food hamburger chain to become the second-largest  in the world.


But the business success was only a means to an end for Stein. The success allowed him to focus on his philanthropic interests and encourage others to follow. This philosophy and outlook is at the very the heart of the concept behind the Steiner scholars – Stein’s desire to make tomorrow’s Jacksonville better than today’s and to encourage others to follow that path of giving.