That was evident at the Good Neighbor Awards gala during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans on Saturday night, where the 2014 class was officially honored for the life-changing work they do to improve their communities. As each of the five award recipients stood up to be recognized, they brought the house down with tales of people they’ve touched who achieved unbelievable triumphs in the face of tough odds.
The Good Neighbor Awards, now in its 15th year, recognizes REALTORS® who have made an impact on their communities through volunteer work. This year’s reception, held at the New Orleans Downtown Marriott hotel, saw 16 past Good Neighbors come out to support the newly minted class.
The five 2014 Good Neighbor Award winners — who were each given $10,000 grants toward their charities — were recognized in front of thousands of REALTORS® earlier in the day at the General Session, where NAR President Steve Brown thanked them for their important work.
“You are a true inspiration to us as leaders and as volunteers,” former NAR Senior Vice President of Communications Pamela Kabati, who helped launch the Good Neighbor Awards program, told the audience at Saturday’s reception.
One of the biggest tearjerkers of the night came when Jane Locke told of a 5-year-old girl who was helped by Locke’s local Mt. Pleasant, S.C.-based charity, Carolina Children’s Charity, which benefits kids born with birth defects. The girl had never walked before, but when her father brought her to the finish line of a 5K run, she stood up out of her wheelchair and walked – for the very first time – across it.
“My feet don’t touch the ground,” Locke said of the overwhelming joy she feels helping others. “I’m so happy. … It’s priceless to see a smile on a child’s face when you have helped put it there.”
It was a little boy named Tyler who “broke my heart and won my heart” when Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt started her charity, Children’s Volunteer Health Network, in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., she said. The charity helps needy children get dental care when their families can’t afford to pay for it.
“Because of his crooked teeth, kids called him ‘monster mouth,’” Carlisle-Northcutt said. “But Tyler was an overcomer of life circumstances. … When I met this little guy 10 years ago, I never imagined what type of impact he would have on my life and the community. I keep Tyler in my heart on a daily basis.”
She said that people like Tyler are “shadow children,” often overlooked by others. But “we can all be heroes in someone’s life,” she said. “Being a Good Neighbor is about being present in the lives of those who need us.”
After Ed Pompeian recovered from his kidney transplant in the 1970s, he started visiting transplant patients – who come from all over the country – at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to ask them what their greatest needs were in the recovery process.
“Their most common question was: ‘Do you know of a reasonable place where I can stay?’” Pompeian told the crowd.
That was his inspiration for opening the Gift of Life Transplant House, where transplant patients can find an affordable place to stay with their care-givers while they wait for donors and recover from surgery.
He remembered a woman needing a lung transplant who stayed at Gift of Life for three years while waiting for a donor. Never knowing when a donor would come through, she had to be nearby the hospital in case one came through.
“Could you imagine staying at a hotel for three years if that was your only option?” Pompeian said. “The emotional support she received from the Transplant House enabled her to deal with the ups and downs of waiting for a transplant. Now she’s enjoying life again with a new grandchild.”
Imagine waking up tomorrow in a foreign land with no money, no formal education, no grasp of the native language, no family, and having to take care of two children.
That’s the story Rosemary Tran Lauer relayed of her own life when she came to America years ago. She became a waitress, but her boss stole her tips because she didn’t know any better. She worked two other jobs, but neither paid enough for her to send her kids to child care. She had no choice but to leave them with neighbors she didn’t know very well while she was working.
That’s why she started Devotion to Children, which helps struggling parents get child care, she said. She wanted to help women like her – or like Lena, a woman with two kids who moved back to her parents’ house to escape an abusive relationship.
“She got married and thought it would be happily ever after,” Lauer said. “She would have been homeless with two children if she hadn’t have found Devotion to Children.”
For Paul Wilson, what motivates him to keep running to raise money for Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., are the children whose lives are being saved every day. The proceeds from his Wolfson Children’s Challenge, a 55-mile race that benefits the hospital, have paid for cutting-edge medical equipment that catches life-threatening illnesses in children early on.
He recalls a saying he once heard: “The wealthiest place on earth is the graveyard because in the graveyard, there are dreams that never became realities and hopes that were never acted upon.
“This motivates me to always keep pushing forward and take action to make this world a better place,” Wilson said.
He called out some of the children who inspire him every day: a young girl with a rare neurological disease that was caught early by the 3 Tesla MRI machine that Wolfson Children’s Challenge raised funds for. And, of course, his own son, who was born with spina bifida and now, at 6 years old, is the star of his school’s swim team.
The Good Neighbors reception ended on a high note with one of the most awe-inspiring women in the country today: Nancy Frates, who played a role in helping her son, Pete, make the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge a viral success. Pete has been living with ALS since March 2012 and can no longer walk or speak. Once he started pushing the Ice Bucket Challenge to his network of pro athletes in Boston, the movement grew to worldwide proportions.
Frates spoke of the need for everyone to become leaders in something.
“Through hard work driven by love, inspiration, and unacceptability of a most certain inevitability for Pete, we changed the world,” Frates said. “Have faith, and when a leader sets a vision, keep it at the forefront of your life every day. You must believe in and get on board with the vision every day. There is no room in progress for drama and negativity.”
She ended the night with one of Pete’s favorite sayings: “Be passionate, be genuine, be hardworking, and don’t be afraid to be great.”