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Daily Real Estate News  |  October 2, 2006  |   Good Neighbor Finalist Is 'Mom' to Refugees
Editor’s note: In August, REALTOR® Magazine announced the 10 finalists for its Good Neighbor Awards. Each week until the five winners are announced in late October, we’ll bring you the story of one of these finalists.

On any given evening, dozens of people may stop by Jill Rich’s home for a home-cooked dinner. But Rich isn’t fazed by the demands of whipping up an impromptu meal for herds of hungry guests. In fact, she looks forward to it.

That’s because the guests are like her sons. They are Sudanese refugees — referred to in the media as “The Lost Boys” — who Rich helps to adapt to life in the United States. “There have been many evenings when 30 or 40 of the Lost Boys drop by unannounced at dinner time,” says Rich, ABR®, CRS®, of Realty Executives Southern Arizona. “Somehow, I’ve become like a mom to them.”

Rich feels so passionately about helping the young men that in 2002 she started the Sudanese Promise Fund, based in Tucson, Ariz. The nonprofit group is devoted to helping the men lead productive lives in the United States.

Long Road to Tucson

Thousands of Lost Boys fled their country amid a violent civil war after being separated from their family members, many of whom were murdered or forced into slavery. After grueling years of wandering the desert on foot, they sought refuge at a camp in Kenya and then were brought to the United States in 2001 with the permission of the U.S. government. About 60 of them settled in Tucson.

“Many of the Lost Boys believe it was divine intervention that brought them to the United States,” Rich says. “Most of their friends died before making it here.”

The young men, who grew up in tribal communities, needed help adapting to American life. “They had no knowledge of technology,” Rich says. “They didn’t know how to use a refrigerator. They’d go into a grocery store and wouldn't know what was food and what wasn’t.”

Rich helped them find housing, get jobs, finish high school, attend and pay for college, and get medical and dental care. Many of them even lived with Rich while they settled into their new lives. Her motherly guidance and love earned her the nickname “Mama Jill.”

“Mama Jill is a very kind, loving human being,” says John Thom Majok, a Sudanese refugee who has earned his GED and graduated from the University of Arizona in 2005. He's now working for a Washington, D.C.-based program that helps his fellow countrymen.

“When I was looking for a car, I asked, ‘Where do I buy a car? How do I do it?,’” Majok says. “She dropped everything and took me to a dealer. She helped me get a good deal.”

History of Volunteerism

For Rich, dedicated volunteerism is a part of life. She was a 2000 recipient of the Good Neighbor Award for unrelated volunteer work she did for the American Red Cross.

She’s now devoted to raising money for the Sudanese Promise Fund and helping the men succeed. “My husband teases me because I say every one of them is my favorite,” she says.

Rich is one of 10 finalists for the 2006 Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program recognizing REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, five winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause.

The Good Neighbor Awards is supported by founding sponsor eNeighborhoods Inc., and cosponsors Fannie Mae and LandAmerica.

— By Tracey C. Velt for REALTOR® Magazine Online

Stay tuned for profiles of the nine other Good Neighbor Award finalists in coming weeks. For a list of the finalists and to read more about the program, visit the Good Neighbor Awards home page.

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