Last month, REALTOR® Magazine selected the 10 finalists for the Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program that recognizes REALTORS® who make exceptional contributions to improving the quality of life in their communities. For the past 10 weeks, we highlighted the accomplishments of one of these volunteers every Monday. Five winners, who will be announced October 23, will receive $5,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. The five runners-up will receive $1,000 grants.
Good Neighbor Finalists:
Lou Bozigian, Coldwell Banker--Bozigian Realty; Lancaster, Calif.
Hal Ehretsman, Chartwell Group; Cleveland, Ohio
Libby Gatewood, Century 21 C.F. Scott Inc.; Chester, Va.
Suzanne Goldstein, Long & Foster; Washington, D.C.
John M. Green, John M. Green, REALTORS®; Franklin, Tenn.
Muriel Howard, Howard Real Estate Inc.; Malvern, Ark.
Linda Norton, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage; Ft. Collins, CO
Cynthia Shafer, Lahaina Realty Inc., Ft. Myers Beach, Fla.
Ouida Spencer, RE/MAX Executives Inc., Atlanta, Ga.
Annemarie Torcivia, RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists, Malden, Mass.
(Final in a series of ten)
The son of Armenian immigrants, Lou Bozigian, never lost sight of one of the fundamental responsibilities of American citizenship: to build a strong community. As a result, there’s scarcely a facet of community service where he hasn't had a leadership role. He's served as a public school trustee, president of a performing arts organization, and led fundraising drives for the American Cancer Society, for which he’s helped raise more than $1 million. Bozigian even spent years in local politics, co-chairing the original incorporation committee for Lancaster, Calif., in 1977, serving on the planning commission and city council, and eventually being elected mayor. “Every time I get involved in something, I want to lead,” he says. “I like making decisions—and trying to make a positive difference.”
Though his drive to lead has supported many causes, Bozigian’s true passion was inspired by his daughter, Caren, who suffered brain damage in a car accident when she was a toddler. To help families like his, Bozigian began volunteering for Desert Haven Enterprises, a non-profit that helps the developmentally disabled become productive and self-sufficient. Since he got involved in 1958, Bozigian has spent 20 years as president and acted as auction chair 15 times, which has grossed $4 million. He's dedicated 45 to 50 thousand hours, says Jenni Moran, executive director, Desert Haven.
“When I got involved with Desert Haven," Bozigian remembers, "developmentally disabled children weren’t even required to go to school.” He helped persuade the county to create special education programs and enroll the developmentally disabled in public schools from age 3 to age 21 and give them a chance to reach their untapped potential.
As the school system began to fulfill children’s educational needs, Desert Haven turned its focus to helping young adults find work. Today the organization provides job training and placement for about 400 adults with Down’s syndrome, mental retardation, and other developmental disabilities. The group has placed those it has trained at local businesses like Wal-Mart and franchise restaurants, and runs a workshop where almost 200 people assemble and package products on contract for other businesses. It's also negotiated major groundskeeping contracts with city businesses including Edwards Air Force Base, where about 100 developmentally disabled adults maintain the grounds.
Though it’s been 13 years since his daughter, Caren, passed away, Bozigian is still a driving force behind Desert Haven, responsible for raising almost $100,000 for the organization last year. He says his lifelong commitment is motivated by something he once read: "Any definition of a successful life must involve helping others.”
Hal Ehretsman is more than a basketball coach. For more than 20 years, he's helped inner-city youth develop a game plan for their success on and off the court.
"Hal never misses an opportunity to teach young players about the core values of life. Because of his concern for the future of the kids in his program, many young men have found confidence to succeed in their [adult lives] beyond high school," says Dave Sorenson, former assistant coach.
Ehretsman’s dedication to his players is also evident in their on-court success. His Amateur Athletic Union team, the Ohio Stars, has won more than 1,000 games and qualified for national post-season tournaments 25 times. In 2001, the Stars were the only undefeated team in at the Junior Olympics. Three of his former players are in the NBA. His current standouts include LeBron James, a Kobe Bryant play-alike who recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as one of the most exciting high school players ever.
Off the court, Ehretsman advises his players on academics, making sure they remain eligible to play and qualify for college. “I always tell them life is a lot like basketball—you don’t get good results without hard work,” says Ehretsman.
He's contributed more than $250,000 of his own money to support the team and the players. He spends the off-season speaking with college coaches about his recruits, helping his players earn more than $10 million in scholarships in 10 years.
His impact on his players' lives is best illustrated by his continuing support of young men who are no longer on his roster. For example, last fall, one of his former players, Chester Mason, was having a tough time adjusting to his rookie position on the Miami University basketball team and academic freshman status. He became so discouraged with his schoolwork that he called his former coach to bring him home. Ehretsman helped Mason refocus and convinced him to stay in school.
"Hal's involvement is more than just training high school kids to be better basketball players; he's training them how to live life," says Spencer Pisczack, senior vice president, Duke Realty Corp., Cleveland.
When Libby Clawson Gatewood’s doctor told her she had breast cancer, he advised her to become a fighter. Since that day in 1996, she’s not only battled for her own health but also to help others brave the disease. Frustrated by the lack of information and resources available to patients in her suburb of Richmond, Gatewood founded a chapter of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation less than a year after her diagnosis.
“I had so many questions, but I found that the resources were limited and far away,” she says. “I was angry, so I got eight people together” from the area to commiserate and compare notes on treatments and support organizations. “I discovered the information was out there if you looked hard enough.”
To share her new-found knowledge with newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients, Gatewood co-wrote a book, SOAR: Strength, Optimism And Recovery, and organized funds to distribute it at no cost. The book contains such useful information as lists of questions to ask your doctor, times and dates of support groups, and where to get a wig or a prosthesis.
Gatewood is also a popular speaker and support-group facilitator, teaching women how to make turbans, wear wigs, and use make-up to cover treatment-related changes in appearance—even though she often went bald in public during her own chemotherapy treatment.
“I have the personality that I can be bold and creative get people’s attention,” she says. “When people stared, I told them it was my chemo hairdo—and asked them if they’ve had a mammogram. Not everybody can do that, but I felt like I was making a statement, and it was an ice breaker that often got people to ask questions.”
Among the other stunts Gatewood has organized to bring attention to the cause are wrapping the state capitol in pink tulle, and fundraising by having local celebrities wait tables and hosting big girl dress-up tea parties, complete with fine china and ladies dressed in hats and gloves. “You have to do something different unique to get [the media] to come,” she says. “But every time we’re on TV or in the paper; someone new will call with questions. Once it gets going, it builds.”
Gatewood is also involved in lobbying at the state and federal level for funding for breast cancer education. This year, she introduced a bill to the Virginia General Assembly for the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation Pink Ribbon License Plate, the proceeds of which support early detection programs throughout the state. Her plate reads “1 in 8” for the number of U.S. women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes.
“The idea is to educate women to take control over their own healthcare,” she says. “We help them wake up from a nightmare. And if we can get help them through the trying times of chemo and hair loss and illness, when they’re feeling better then they’re willing to give back.”
For more information, contact Gatewood at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to vbcf.org
A bag of groceries may not seem like something that could change a life. But for 1,300 critically ill men, women, and children in the Washington metro area, a bag of groceries or a microwaveable meal delivered by Food & Friends is a link to independence and survival.
The group provides three free meals a day to clients suffering from AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many other debilitating diseases. With the help of full-time nutritionists, meals are individually designed to complement a client’s medical regime and mobility. Starting a 6:30 a.m. every day, volunteers—commuters on their way to work, students doing community service, and retirees—assist the 50-person paid staff by chopping vegetables, preparing meals, and packing bags for delivery by the group’s staff and volunteer drivers. More than 700 volunteers participate in some capacity each month.
“Food and Friends feeds critically ill people who have no other source of food,” says Suzanne Goldstein, the group’s chairman of the board. “We serve people from all financial backgrounds, people who are alone and need help to survive.”
To secure the $5.5 million a year it takes to keep its kitchen in operation, Goldstein devotes much of her time to fundraising. She chairs the annual Chef’s Best event, at which 60 top chefs from the Washington area cook specialties for charity. “We sell 1,500 tickets—as many as the two ballrooms can hold,” says Goldstein. Last year, ticket proceeds, plus revenues from silent and live auctions, netted $650,000.
An even bigger moneymaker is the annual AIDS ride from Raleigh, N.C., to Washington, D.C. The event, which raised $1.3 million for Food & Friends in 2001, calls both on Goldstein’s fundraising skills and her endurance. As part of the riders’ crew for the four-day marathon, she sleeps in a tent, fills water bottles, hauls ice, and picks up trash.
Food & Friends began 14 years ago to provide meals to AIDS sufferers in the gay community; Goldstein joined the board seven years ago. Under her leadership and encouragement, Food & Friends has expanded its mission to serve all those with critical illnesses within the District of Columbia and 14 surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia.
But as the mission expanded, so did the organization’s funding needs. “We have a waiting list of clients referred from doctors, hospices, and community organizations. So we decided that even though we have a phenomenal kitchen, we needed a much bigger one to meet the demand,” says Goldstein.
Rising to the challenge, Goldstein and her board launched a $7 million capital fundraising effort to build a kitchen that could serve up to 3,000 people a day. Goldstein herself pledged $100,000. A $990,000 Community Development Grant from the District of Columbia was just one of the reasons that the goal has nearly been met in less than 12 months.
One of the hardest things was finding an affordable site that was central and near a Metro station. “That was critical because so many of our volunteers rely on public transportation,” says Goldstein. A top producer who sold more than $60 million in 2001, Goldstein used her real estate connections to find an appropriate site in southeast Washington.
"Once the new kitchen opens, we'll triple our capacity,” said Goldstein. “Our dedicated staff and volunteers will ensure that many more people too sick to feed themselves won’t go hungry. What a legacy for us to leave for future Food and Friends volunteers to continue after we are gone."
Several generations of Boy Scouts in Franklin, Tenn., have looked to John Green as a role model and mentor since he first became a scout leader in 1950. Today, at age 75, Green still leads a troop of 125 scouts and eight adult leaders.
The entire group meets weekly at Green’s renovated barn, which includes ham radio equipment, computers, bee hives and a rappelling tower. Scouts maintain a Web site detailing their activities, cultivate vegetables in the garden and have even raised a calf on the property.
But the most important thing Green provides to the boys, who range in age from 11 to 17, is his time. “He spends a great deal of time mentoring youth in career decisions, family crises, and life skills, and has kept many young boys away from trouble,” says Daniel B. Sutherland IV, district executive, Boy Scouts of America, Middle Tennessee Council. “[Former] scouts stop by often to thank Mr. Green for his time and dedication.”
Many of his charges have gone on to successful careers in medicine, law, engineering, education and the military. Ronald Crutcher, an Eagle Scout in the late 1950s, says the most important lesson Green taught him was that “people less fortunate than us deserve our help. That’s not something he verbalized; it’s something he taught us by example.”
His scouts participate in monthly camping trips and an annual trip to the Scout Camp in Boxwell, Tenn. Each year the older boys have an opportunity to go on a larger trip. Past destinations include the Adirondacks, Glacier National Park, and even Tanzania. Green still takes part in many of these expeditions.
Green plays an active role in his church as well. He taught Sunday school for 30 years, has served as deacon since 1982, and currently leads the church’s benevolent ministry, which distributes $5,000 a month to charities.
Green attributes his level of involvement to his deep roots in the community. “The barn is down the street from where I was born. The land was originally a land grant from revolutionary war times.”
Green was also a pioneer in the local real estate industry; he’s the only one of six charter members of the Williamson County Board of REALTORS® who is still in business. He was the third CRB in the state, a member of the first GRI class in Nashville, and served twice as president of the local board.
For his service to scouting, Green has received awards such as the Silver Beaver Award, the highest award given to Scout leaders at the council level. He was also one of the first recipients of the Long Rifle Award, a district award for volunteers.
“We have over 9,500 volunteers and John Green is without a doubt one of the very top and most important volunteers we have providing service to youth,” says Joe Long, scout executive, Middle Tennessee Council, Boy Scouts of America.
With in-patient hospital costs increasing by double digits annually and one-third of all U.S. hospitals operating in the red, even a major urban medical center often struggles to provide top-notch care. For the 92-bed Hot Spring County Medical Center in Malvern, Ark., finding the funds to attract scarce nurses and to replace a 10-year-old mammography machine was fast becoming impossible. Yet, the county’s 30,000 residents—60 percent of whom relied on Medicare or Medicaid--wanted to keep their hospital viable. The question was how.
“We wanted to find a way for the community to partner with the hospital to help its medical staff do an even better job caring for our community, as it’s done for the last 80 years,” said Muriel Howard of Howard Real Estate.
A Malvern native, Howard and her husband, Ed, had returned to her childhood home in 1976 and opened a real estate business after Ed’s retirement from a 20-year Army career. After nursing her father, mother, and sister through their final illnesses, Howard had spent a lot of time in hospitals. So she knew first hand the peace of mind having comprehensive medical care close to home could provide.
So that her fellow Malvern residents could have a way to help their hospital, Howard founded the Hot Spring County Medical Center Foundation in 2001. In its first year, the Foundation sold 325 memberships ranging from $10,000 to $100 annually and raised $200,000 for the Medical Center. Funds were used to buy eight new cardiac monitors—the piece of equipment the medical staff wanted most—and to renovate seven patient rooms. The foundation also sponsored local health education programs on topics such as prostate cancer testing and breast cancer screening. “And after the meetings, we always give them a chance to join the Foundation,” notes Howard, who serves as the organization’s chairman of the board.
As the foundation enters its second year, Howard plans to expand its fundraising to include corporate and foundation grants and more ambitious events such as a silent auction for a car. The Foundation has earmarked these funds for two nursing scholarships—which will be repaid when the graduates return to work for two years in Hot Springs County. And they hope this year to replace that old mammography machine.
Voted “Hot Spring County Woman of the Year” by the Malvern Daily Record, Howard is a past president of both the Rotary Club and the Malvern Board of REALTORS® and has been a million dollar producer for several years.
Five years after surviving breast cancer, Howard also remains active as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society. She’s in her fourth year heading up the Society’s “Relay for Life,” in which sponsored volunteer teams take turns walking all night. She also visits women recovering from breast cancer to provide support and insights from her own experience.
“A community gives so much to us in the real estate business; I just wanted to give back,” says Howard.
Linda Norton’s real estate marketing slogan is “Keeping the American Dream Affordable.” It’s a promise that has guided both her professional life and her personal commitment to provide affordable housing for thousands of Colorado residents.
“When you see working families struggling to come up with a downpayment in a market where housing prices have tripled in the last 15 years, you just want to help,” says Norton, CRS, SRES, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. “I like doing it. In fact, I tell other salespeople that if they have buyers who say they can’t afford a home, send them to me.”
Norton views her work in educating buyers about housing affordability as a “natural progression” from her career as a high school physical education teacher in Newark, N.J. and her later stints as a bartender in upstate New York and Colorado. “Bartending is great training for real estate sales. You learn to connect with people and to listen instead of talk,” says Norton.
Extending her commitment to affordable housing from the professional to the volunteer side just seemed like the next step. A founding member of Funding Partners for Housing Solutions, Norton works to provide nonprofit bridge and construction loans to the developers of affordable rental housing in eight counties along Colorado’s Front Range, including Denver. A companion program makes long-term loans to homebuyers for downpayments or closing costs.
Through these programs, which she led as president of Funding Partners for five years until this spring, Norton has helped provide more than 700 affordable rental units and helped more than 400 low-income Colorado residents become homeowners.
In addition to those ongoing programs, last year Norton led a $10 million renovation of a historic-but-neglected downtown hotel that now provides 47 apartments for very-low-income seniors.
Norton has also served as president of the Ft. Collins Board of REALTORS® and has been named its REALTOR® of the Year, as well as the 2001 Volunteer of the Year by the Colorado Association of REALTORS®. Norton closes between 80 and 90 transactions a year with the help of a full-time licensed assistant and a part-time administrator. And she still finds the time to keep her creative spirit alive by singing at charity events with a 10-piece band and perfecting a mean game of pool.
“Linda is a good steward to our community,” says Ft. Collins Mayor and affordable housing advocate Ray Martinez.
In her off hours, Cynthia Shafer spends time with some of her community’s most troubled children. As a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem in Florida’s 20th Circuit Court, Shafer is an advocate for children who have been neglected or abused.
Her job is to work with social services to help assess a child’s problems, shepherd the child through the legal system, and recommend whether the child should be returned to the family or placed in foster care. “I serve as the voice of the child and the eyes and ears of the judge,” says Shafer.
When Shafer takes on a case—she has between two and seven at a time—she consults with attorneys and social workers, then works on developing a relationship with the children and their parents. Some of the cases are resolved in a few months; others go on for many years. “The children see you on a consistent basis, sometimes more than they see their parents,” Shafer says. “They get to know you and trust you.”
The non-profit Guardian Ad Litem program, begun in the mid-1970s, has been praised by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently announced plans to expand it to help relieve the state’s beleaguered Department of Children and Families. Bush has said his goal is to appoint a guardian for every child, which would involve a statewide campaign for volunteers.
In addition to working with the children directly, Shafer served on a steering committee in the early ’90s that revamped the way cases were being handled by the court system. A decade ago children sometimes languished for 10 years before their cases were resolved. Shafer was a driving force in establishing courtroom computers, a court calendar, and contract attorneys—improvements that proved to get children’s lives settled faster and save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last year, Shafer expanded her efforts on behalf of these troubled children. She began to collect and redistribute used furniture to foster parents who want to take in a child but can’t afford a new bed. She and her husband rent a storage facility to hold the donated items—90 percent of which come from the REALTOR® community. Most weekends they rent a moving van to pick up donations and make deliveries, sometimes up to 50 miles away. So far this year, she has provided 53 beds and furnished five full houses.
“Not only does Cynthia do much of the heavy lifting herself but she leaves no stone unturned, even making up the beds with bedding she donates herself,” says Roxanne Hino, the Guardian Ad Litem program coordinator, who says Shafer is one of the few volunteer guardians who maintains a full-time job. Shafer says the children are often thrilled to have a bed of their own with pretty sheets and a stuffed animal. “They’ll say in awe, ‘This is just for me?’”, she says.
To make the transition a little easier when a child is being removed from a home, Shafer also launched a program she calls Duffels for Dignity, which prevents kids from having to use garbage bags to transport their belongings. This year, she’s distributed more than 1,500 new duffel bags—labeled “My Stuff”—which contain age-appropriate toiletries and gifts, such as a diary and water bottle for teenagers; dolls, footballs, and picture books for children; and a blanket, stuffed animals and baby lotion for infants.
Shafer is also past president of the Fort Myers Beach Association of REALTORS® , and has been named Humanitarian of the Year by the Florida Association of REALTORS®.
She attributes her desire to help others to the influence of her Italian immigrant grandmother, who raised her after her own mother passed away when she was three. “She taught me the importance of helping people and giving back to the community. I guess I inherited her drive.”
It started very simply. More than 20 years ago, someone asked Ouida Spencer to volunteer at a telethon to benefit United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia. The next year she chaired the telethon. Today, she’s in her eighth year as vice chair of the entire statewide organization. Her drive has helped Georgia UCP increase its annual budget from $750,000 to $17.5 million and expand its services from 100 to more than 1,000 individuals with developmental disabilities.
Spencer’s explanation of her decades-long commitment to the organization is also very simple: “I feel like I make a difference.”
Though its name doesn’t indicate it, United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia serves people with all kinds of developmental disabilities, including autism, Down’s syndrome, and head injuries. The organization provides job training and owns and operates 50 homes where people live can independently, often for the first time.
Her experience with UPC has also made Spencer a tireless hands-on advocate for the housing rights of disabled adults. In her quest to move people out of hospitals and into the community, Spencer travels throughout the state to identify single-family housing that can be modified to accommodate disabled adults. She often has to work with county or state officials to overcome tax and zoning issues, meet with fire marshals, and speak to neighborhood associations to allay residents’ fears about having disabled people living nearby.
“At first, some residents worry about the effect on their property values,” Spencer says. “But once they understand that these disabled adults are people just like you and me who want to live as normal lives as possible, then they become very supportive and begin taking them cakes and clearing the ice from the sidewalks.”
Spencer has helped move more than 400 people into single-family homes—200 just last year. Some individuals live alone; other houses are home to three or four adults. Care provider visit homes as needed to offer services and oversight.
A multi-faceted volunteer, Spencer is also one of the UCP’s most productive fundraisers, consistently chairing special events that have brought in about $40,000 each of the past few years. And she’s also know for getting in the trenches--answering phones at the all-night telethon or physically setting up a track of haybales and tires for UCP's annual Grand Prix fundraiser.
But Spencer says her greatest joy comes from helping people with disabilities become part of a community. “It’s wonderful to watch the excitement of people who have lived in nursing homes be able to live independently for the first time in their lives,” she says.
Six families left homeless and disoriented after an apartment fire. A young father struggling after the death of his wife to care for his four children, ranging in age from three months to eight years. In these situations and a multitude of others, Anne Torcivia and the organization she founded 10 years ago, REALTORS® Against Poverty, have stepped in to provide support.
Last year, RAP made grants ranging from $150 to $3,500 to about 30 individuals and families. "We try to keep grants relatively small so we can help more people," she says. "Our goal is to help the people we earn a living from—the residents of the towns and cities in the area, who have problems and crises but don't have anywhere else to turn for assistance."
Last year the group raised $3,500 for a family of five boys whose mother had died of cancer and whose father had abandoned them. The boys’ elderly grandmother and a young aunt took them in just before Christmas but couldn't afford gifts and bedding.
"Going over there with the money and seeing the tears in their eyes made me realize why I do this,” she says. “It’s about caring for people.”
RAP also conducts annual food, blood, coat and toy drives and donates the proceeds to official charities, such as the United Way and the American Red Cross.
REALTORS® Against Poverty began in 1991 when Torcivia was named president of her local real estate board. Part of the job was to identify a charity to be the focus of the board’s giving during her term. She considered naming a national group but ultimately decided to form her own local charity. “I wanted to give back to the communities that had made me successful,” she says.
For Torcivia, the connection between her profession and her volunteer activities has always been in the forefront. “Finding a person a home is very rewarding. In a way, it’s similar to what I like about REALTORS® Against Poverty. You feel that you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life.”
Torcivia’s favorite part? “Handing somebody a check. I love it,” she says. “You get to see the smiles on their faces and know you’ve made somebody’s day.”
The group raised $37,000 in 2001. This year, the goal is $40,000. Part of the funding comes from mortgage companies and attorneys and other companies and individuals who do business with real estate professionals. Several banks and insurance companies provide storage space. Even Torcivia’s clients chip in for the cause. “I go to anyone who will listen to me,” says Torcivia. “Sometimes they see me coming and say, ‘I know, I know, time to write a check.’”
The five winners will be announced on October 23 at RealtorMag Online and in the November issue of REALTOR® Magazine.