Palm Beach Atlantic University graduate Fritz Van der Grift thrives on the fast pace and constant travel associated with his job as special assistant to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
“I get to meet people and learn about literally every industry in the state,” said Van der Grift, who grew up in Palm Beach County. “I’ve seen more of Florida in the past year than I have in my entire life. It’s been an amazing learning experience.”
"I have been fortunate enough to get to know Fritz very well over the past few years,” Atwater said. “His dedication and work ethic set him apart from other young men his age. He sets the bar high for himself and continues to clear that bar each and every time. His love for helping others through charity and volunteer work is an inspiration to me and his other colleagues. He is an integral part of my team, and I am lucky to have him.”
|Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater with PBA alumnus Fritz Van der Grift, who serves as his special assistant in Tallahassee.|
It’s a job that enables Van der Grift to draw on his deep-rooted passion for helping others. His employer, the CFO, serves on the governor’s cabinet and is responsible for serving the state’s consumers and taxpayers.
“He’s very noble in his day-to-day activities,” Van der Grift said, noting that Atwater is known for his reputation and his work ethic.
Van der Grift’s own work ethic has been evident since his college years. He was captain of the PBA lacrosse team for three years, and he volunteered for mission trips to the Dominican Republic.
The 24-year-old, who now lives in Tallahassee, recently founded Fruit of the Son, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the less fortunate in the community of Los Alcarrizos in the Dominican Republic. He first traveled there during his junior year at PBA on a trip led by his lacrosse coach, Christopher Southard.
“Going down there opened my eyes to the reality of how a lot of people in the world live,” said Van der Grift, who graduated from PBA in 2010 with a degree in political science. “Something really happened to my heart when I actually went down there and immersed myself and walked the streets with them and did hands-on things with them. That’s what really motivated me to make this not just a once or twice in a lifetime thing, but more of a lifetime commitment.”
The organization, which began in the fall of 2010, already has had an impact through the construction of a new gymnasium. The gym, a state-of-the-art facility designed to keep local youth out of trouble, is named in honor of his childhood friend, Peter Closi, who died tragically three years ago at the age of 20.
Van der Grift said it is fitting that the gym is a gathering place where young people can work out, something his friend often liked to do. The gym was dedicated in December.
“When he died, that was when God really started working in my heart and making me realize the importance of making conscious, healthy life choices,” he said.
Fruit of the Son also has other projects in its sights, including the construction of sidewalks, homes and classrooms in flood-prone areas of Los Alcarrizos, as well as student sponsorships for children attending local Christian schools in the area.
Sponsors can send a child to schools such as the privately-funded Tri-Unity School for what amounts to $1 per day, he said.
The school enrolls about 200 students. “It’s going to take a lot of time to accomplish this goal of getting them all sponsored,” he said.
In addition to these projects, Van der Grift is preparing to launch an Emergency Medical Supplies Initiative to collect excess medical supplies from Palm Beach County hospitals and send them to places like the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
He first became involved in this effort during his senior year. Within days of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, Van der Grift and a friend, Brett Womack, departed to deliver much-needed water and medical supplies to the earthquake victims. The medical supplies were donated by a friend of Van der Grift’s family who is a nurse.
Today Womack, also a PBA graduate, serves on Fruit of the Son’s board, along with current PBA students Kyle Mains and Kevan Van Stone. Southard, the lacrosse coach, also serves on the board.
The organization is in the early stages of developing its initiatives, programs, relationships and social media, Van der Grift said.
Van der Grift visits the Dominican Republic whenever he can, which has been about twice a year. Last week, he took a team there to work on some projects.
“I have a passion for helping my neighbors in my community,” he said. “I just really enjoy being an organizer and a leader.”