WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 23, 2000) – REALTOR® Magazine, the official publication of the National Association of Realtors, has announced the names of the five recipients of its first annual Good Neighbor Awards.
The Good Neighbor Awards honor the ongoing efforts of individual Realtors who are making exceptional contributions to improve the quality of life in their communities. Winners were selected based on the depth and impact of their contribution, the broadness of their impact, and their demonstrated leadership and initiative. The award program is sponsored by eNeighborhoods, the fastest growing real estate software in the country. More than 210 nominations were received for this year’s awards.
Each winner will receive a $2,500 grant in the name of their community project. The recipients and a guest also will receive travel expenses to attend the Realtors Conference & Expo in San Francisco in November, where they will receive their awards.
The five recipients of this year’s Good Neighbor Award are: Gil Gillenwater, SDI Group, Scottsdale, Ariz., founder of the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation, which provides food and shelter to needy children and the elderly; Oral Lee Brown, Nationwide Realty, Oakland, Calif., founder of The Oral Lee Brown Foundation, which provides student mentoring and college scholarships; Linda Booker, Realty Executives, Glendale, Ariz., founder of Christmas Angels, a holiday gift program; Joseph D. Pitts, West Palm Beach, Fla., an independent Realtor who helped rebuild his failing community of West Gate Estates; and Jill Rich, Realty Executives, Tucson, Ariz., American Red Cross, Southern Arizona Chapter, a long-time leader of their the disaster relief program.
Gillenwater builds shelters and homes for poor children and families in Agua Prieta, Mexico, an impoverished border town 200 miles from his home. Equally important, he brings thousands of eager U.S. volunteers to help. In doing so, he solves poverty of body and soul on both sides of the border. Gillenwater was inspired to launch Rancho Feliz 13 years ago on Thanksgiving Day as he sat at his dinner table staring at more food than he and his family could possibly eat. “It hit me at that moment that I lived in so much abundance,” he said. “And I knew 200 miles from my home there were people who weren’t eating at all.”
Gillenwater and his brother, Troy, got up from the table, bought $2,000 worth of groceries, and drove south with no specific destination. They landed in Agua Prieta. Since then, Rancho Feliz has raised more than $1 million to support a variety of efforts in Agua Prieta, including orphanages, shelters, a soup kitchen, and new home construction.
Brown in 1987 adopted a class of underprivileged first-graders, promising to send them to college if they stayed in school through 12th grade. Brown -- a mother of three who was earning a modest income from real estate at the time -- began setting aside $10,000 of her own money each year to pay for tuition, in addition to seeking contributions from others. She also acted as a mentor and second mother to many of the school children, often becoming deeply involved in their lives. Thirteen years later, 19 of the first-graders Brown adopted are in their second year of college, while others are in junior college, cosmetology school, and cooking school. “I bet you every one of my babies could tell you about somebody they’ve seen get killed or at least get shot,” says Brown. “It was a challenge to just survive—let alone get an education.”
Booker is being recognized for her dedication to Christmas Angels, a program she founded to provide needy children and adults with gifts of toys and clothing during the holidays after falling on some hard times herself. Last year, with no budget but an army of volunteers, the organization gave out 25,000 gifts in the Phoenix area. "When you deliver presents, it's a real personal thing," she says. "You take them to the front door and say this is from your mom or dad. And the kids are just wide-eyed. They can't believe they've been remembered." The group also provides presents to children with a parent in prison, homeless children, orphanages and domestic abuse shelters in addition to adult AIDS and indigent hospital patients.
Pitts, an independent Realtor in West Palm Beach, helped rebuild his failing community of West Gate Estates, including obtaining money and land to construct a desperately needed new school, acquiring federal funding to pay for infrastructure improvements and leading local anti-drug and crime programs. The 20-year Army veteran with a knack for finding his way through the thicket of government regulations rolled up his sleeves and set in motion a citizen-led machine that’s turning the area around, parcel by parcel. “West Palm Beach just forgot about this area,” says Pitts, who’s been a local resident since he was 5-years-old, except for his stint in the military. Today he’s known as the unofficial “Mayor of West Gate Estates.”
Rich is being honored for her volunteerism and devotion to the American Red Cross, Southern Arizona Chapter, where one week out of every month she’s "on call," making it her responsibility to be ready at a moment's notice to provide aid and comfort to the victims of fires, floods, storms, and other catastrophes. "We find them shelter, give them vouchers for food and new clothes. If they need a prescription for a medical condition, we pay for it," she said. Rich also founded a program that provides homeless people with basic toiletries and warm winter clothing. She funds the program out of her own earnings. Last year, she and her husband distributed more than 3,000 pairs of socks and gloves, as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste. "I started when I was five," she recalled. "I remember it like yesterday. I heard a news report about children not having milk and asked my father—who was active in a number of charities— how that was possible, because we had lots of milk." That led to a candy sale that raised $3.88 for the local milk fund.
NAR President Dennis R. Cronk (www.denniscronk.com) said Realtor Magazine’s Good Neighbor Award program offers a platform to honor Realtors who work to solve quality-of-life issues within their communities, including housing-related problems. "The Good Neighbor Awards recognize our Realtors who are willing to give of themselves so that others might enjoy a higher quality of life," Cronk said. "The program validates the fact that Realtors don't just sell homes. We’re involved in our communities," he added.
"We conceived these awards to honor and support ordinary Realtors who were making extraordinary contributions to their communities, something so many of them do without much recognition," said REALTOR Magazine Editorial Director Pamela Geurds Kabati, one of the six Good Neighbor Award judges. "Together, our honorees have contributed nearly 5,000 hours of their time to community service – that’s more than two full-time jobs– not to mention the money they’ve put up. We hope the good works of these people will inspire others around the country to help make their communities a better place to live.
We fully expect this year’s winners to be but the first members of what will grow to be a large and vibrant society of Good Neighbors within the Realtor organization." REALTOR Magazine’s Good Neighbor Award program is sponsored by eNeighborhoods, the fastest growing real estate software in the country. Developed by iPlace, eNeighborhoods software enables real estate professionals to provide their clients with timely and accurate information on every neighborhood in the country—from recent home sales data to crime rates, from school rankings to neighborhood demographics. The magazine, in conjunction with eNeighborhoods, will offer the awards again next year.
"We're proud to be able to focus the strength of 750,000 real estate professionals to improve their communities through eNeighborhoods' sponsorship of the Good Neighbor Awards," said Stuart Siegel, president of iPlace and a Good Neighbor judge. "The response from Realtors was tremendous, and selecting the winners was a very difficult task."
Profiles of each of the Good Neighbor Award winners and their programs will be featured in the November issue of REALTOR Magazine and at the magazine’s Web site, www.realtormag.com.
The National Association of Realtors, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing more than 750,000 members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.