She thought they were firecrackers.
Then she saw people running and screaming, “Active shooter!” A gunman, perched on the roof of a building, opened fire on the parade route, killing seven and injuring about 50.
In the days after, Brint, an @properties Christie’s International Real Estate broker in Highland Park, Ill., visited the memorial site that had sprung up in town. People went there to weep, remember the injured, grieve the dead and share stories.
“It was cathartic, and I felt lucky,” she recalls. After all, neither she nor her family had been injured. Not all her friends had been so fortunate.
Brint’s voice cracks when she describes the pain and anguish that rippled through Highland Park and neighboring town Highwood, both about 25 miles north of Chicago. A year out, residents continue to grapple with fear, guilt, grief, depression and PTSD.
A Community Mobilizes
Brint knew she was in a position to help ease the suffering. A lifelong Highland Park resident, she’d been volunteer board chair of the Highland Park Community Foundation, a grant-giving nonprofit that supports other local nonprofits. The night of the shooting, Brint started getting calls. The central theme: “The foundation fills the community’s unmet needs. What’s your plan?”
“I had no idea what I was in for and that I was taking on the biggest job of my life.” –Betsy Brint
Brint has a reputation as a connector, a dedicated volunteer and someone who gets things done. People were offering her pro bono legal advice and other professional services, and many callers ended their conversations with: “Whatever you need.”
“You don’t make that kind of an offer unless you know and trust the person,” Terri Olian, HPCF’s executive director, says. “Betsy looks at the world, sees a problem, and thinks, ‘you do whatever you can to fix it.’” That night, the two discussed setting up a fund to support victims.
With the support of the city of Highland Park, HPCF launched the July 4th Highland Park Shooting Response Fund and later created Together Highland Park Unidos, a committee to manage the distribution of the donations.
The fund opened on July 6, 2022, and donations rolled in immediately. There were significant corporate gifts, individual contributions and grassroots fundraising, including money from kids’ lemonade stands, charity runs and proceeds from the sale of “Highland Park Strong” merchandise.
Brint, who chaired the effort, was especially moved by the real estate community, including her @properties broker and colleagues. The North Shore Barrington Association of REALTORS®, through a matching grant, donated $54,728.
“Real estate professionals aren’t super rich, but all these people gave because this is what it’s all about,” says Brint. “I was blown away.”
Proceeding Without Fear
When the fund closed in August, 7,072 contributors had donated a total of $5.8 million.
“The goal was getting money to people as quickly as possible,” Brint says. “It was all-consuming.” The task required meetings with the community, developing a claims process, establishing protocols for distributing the money and reviewing claims.
“Betsy’s compassionate leadership was vital during an unimaginable time in our city’s history,” says Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. “She and her team were immediately available and willing to put objective, thoughtful and compassionate efforts toward creating and applying a fair and appropriate protocols to support those directly impacted by the shooting.”
“I don’t know if you ever really heal from something like this. It’s like having a scab that’s always vulnerable.” –Betsy Brint
Skills honed in real estate—creating timelines, tracking details and getting deals to the closing table—prepared Brint well for the role, and she wasn’t alone. A diverse group of committee members shouldered some of the workload and kept Brint abreast of community dynamics. “They were my eyes and ears, helping me know what was happening and understand what people needed,” she says. Because many victims were native Spanish speakers, for example, it was critical to produce bilingual materials.
Brint also sought advice from people who’d held similar positions after other high-profile tragedies, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Addressing Longstanding Wounds
Dividing funds among the victims proved to be Brint’s greatest challenge. After all, how do you measure whose pain is the greatest?
The bulk of the money went to 66 households. “These were gifts of compassion, not need-based. We developed categories, and how to pay things out was very formulaic and systematic,” she explains.
To maintain transparency, the committee held public meetings to explain the strategy. “We were doing this very sterile presentation in front of people who’d been shot or had lost a loved one. It was awful. The hardest,” she recalls.
Brint also felt it was important to support nonprofit groups that were providing mental health services to the community. About 10% of the donations went to fund programs at 17 local agencies. One recipient, the Highwood Public Library, used the funds to develop a slate of services, including individual and group counseling, meditation, and health walks tailored to the needs of its patrons.
Laura Ramirez, the library’s associate director, says that apart from addressing the July 4 trauma, counselors also uncovered and began tackling clients’ longstanding, unaddressed issues, including challenges around being an immigrant, parenting in an unfamiliar culture and experiencing food insecurity. “Betsy truly has made a lasting impact on this community,” Ramirez says.
Brint’s work may yield other longer-term benefits too. HPCF’s final report, a step-by-step outline of the committee’s work, serves as a blueprint for communities responding to future tragedies. The effort also raised awareness about local needs, something Brint hopes will inspire greater giving to local charities.
“I’m so proud of our work,” says Brint, noting that 100% of the donations were distributed to recipients by Oct. 31, 2022, less than four months after the tragedy. “This experience brought us together and made us stronger. This is what community is about: everybody supporting one another.”
Betsy Brint of Highland Park, Ill., is a broker with @properties Christie's International and volunteer board chair of the Highland Park Community Foundation.