Work hard, dream big, forge connections, and invest in property—those are among the greatest lessons Nora Partlow gained from her father, and they continue to guide Partlow in her work as a real estate pro and community volunteer.
Partlow — a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential in Arlington, Va., and 21-year volunteer for Neighborhood Health, a comprehensive medical clinic serving the poor — has deep empathy for those facing financial struggles. She will never forget her early years in the United States, after her family emigrated from Cuba to New Jersey in the mid-1950s.
“My father wanted to be an electrical engineer,” Partlow recalls. “Once we moved here, he realized the engineering he studied in Cuba wasn’t practical, so he had to take menial jobs. He worked many jobs, never taking government help, never getting food stamps—no, he was much too proud for that,” Partlow says. “He worked hard and saved, and always knew he could do better.”
Her father’s persistence and entrepreneurial spirit soon led to success, she says. “We came here in 1956 and, by 1959, we already owned a house. My father taught me that owning property was the way to acquire wealth in the U.S.” Little surprise, then, that Partlow enjoys working with first-time buyers.
The Importance of Giving Back
Having lived through her family’s rise from poverty, Partlow understands the value of community support. “My parents instilled the importance of giving back to the community that has helped you,” she says. “[Being] an immigrant has a lot to do with how I feel about volunteering and giving— not just monetarily, but also time.”
Partlow’s greatest contributions to Neighborhood Health arise from her ability to make connections to potential donors and her power to motivate, say Kristin Langlykke, who served as executive director of the organization from 2004 to 2011, and its current executive director, Dr. Basim Kahn.
Neighborhood Health of Virginia is a nonprofit community health center offering medical (pediatric through geriatric), dental, and behavioral health services, as well as pharmacy assistance and HIV care, to more than 20,000 people a year, now via 14 locations. With its sliding scale for payments, even those without insurance can access high-quality medical care. More than one-third of its budget must come from donors, says Langlykke, which makes the work of community leaders and volunteers like Partlow essential.
Partlow was a coffee shop owner when she became aware of Neighborhood Health. It had one site at the time, and she noticed that many of its clients were using her nearby coffee shop, situated among low-income housing units in Arlington’s Del Ray neighborhood, as an ad hoc waiting room. She became a fervent supporter of the clinic’s mission when she realized that many of her employees, primarily minimum-wage workers, couldn’t afford quality medical care. Even though Partlow covered 50% of the cost of her employees’ health insurance premiums, most couldn’t afford the remainder.
She not only urged employees and clients to use the clinic but also made her coffee shop available to Neighborhood Health staff. Langlykke, then the clinic’s executive director, met Partlow at that time. “Nora opened her doors for meetings, for recruiting people, and for fundraising,” Langlykke says. Partlow did more than provide a venue; she became invested. “Any time Nora made the first step in recruiting people to help, others followed.” Partlow always had a strong presence, she added, encouraging others, and approaching every situation with a can-do attitude.
At meetings for the Del Ray Business Association, Partlow mobilized support for the health center. The area has experienced gentrification in recent years but still has a sizable low-income population. She pointed out that “small businesses depend on employees to be well so they can come to work and, as minimum wage workers, those employees depend on [Neighborhood Health] for medical care,” she recalls. She encouraged business owners to donate their time, resources, and funding, and the association added Neighborhood Health to its list of beneficiaries of its First Thursday street fairs.
“[Being] an immigrant has a lot to do with how I feel about volunteering and giving – not just monetarily, but also time.”—Nora Partlow
“One of her core principles is to connect people to the organization,” Langlykke says. Neighborhood Health has benefited not only from the volunteer hours that Partlow donates each year but also from the more than 250 people she has recruited for various tasks.
During the economic downturn of the early 2000s, Partlow made a career change. Real estate, she believed, would improve her finances, just as home ownership changed her family’s fortunes in the late 1950s. She began selling but continued to own the coffee shop until 2015 and was pleased that a good number of coffee shop customers turned to her for home purchases. “They trusted me because of the things I had done for the community,” she says.
Broadening the Network
Joining Coldwell Banker has given Partlow a broader network to draw on when she's recruiting volunteers and attendees for Neighborhood Health's largest annual fundraiser. The organization's 25th anniversary gala, held last November, raised $250,000, the bulk of which will go to providing care for those with little or no insurance. Neighborhood Health's goal is to serve 30,000 people next year, says Executive Director Kahn. “Of all the volunteers, [Partlow] undoubtedly contributed the most,” Kahn says. “She goes above and beyond.”
"It doesn't matter how much you earn," says Partlow, espousing values she learned as an immigrant daughter, an employer of minimum-wage workers, and a person deeply supportive of home ownership. What matters is being "able to give back to your community.”