|This article was published on: 11/01/2005|
Where are they now?
Good Neighbors Reunion
Past winners of REALTORŪ Magazine’s annual Good Neighbors Awards program are still making a big impact in their local—and global—communities.
BY BARBARA BALLINGER
Their hearts are made of gold; their energy is boundless. They put in long days listing and selling houses, balancing work and family lives, and performing good deeds.
Winners of the REALTORŪ Magazine’s Good Neighbor Awards are among NAR’s most passionate volunteers. Since 2000 when NAR initiated the Good Neighbor Awards, which recognizes REALTORSŪ who make extraordinary contributions to their communities through volunteerism, 30 have won and 32 have received honorable mention, out of a total of 1,538 who were nominated.
The awards do more than pay tribute. They raise the winners’ visibility in their communities and sometimes far beyond, which, in turn, enables them to raise more funds, do more good, and inspire others to become more involved in their own communities.
Like our best neighbors, these winners never stop caring. We asked six past Good Neighbor Awards winners to update us on their efforts and how winning the Award made a difference in their lives and the charity work they do.
In this article, we caught up with:
Oral Lee Brown
Linda W. Norton
Oral Lee Brown
Oral Lee Brown Foundation
Oral Lee Brown was a Good Neighbor Awards winner in 2000 for showing young children in her poverty-stricken, blighted inner-city neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., that someone cared. In 1987, Brown, a broker with Nationwide Realty and a mother of three daughters, adopted one class of 23 first graders and promised: Stay in school and I’ll send you to college.
Where They Are Now
The Oral Lee Brown Foundation that she established in 1989 now has a staff of three, 21 board members, and labs and counseling to help students and other children with math, science, and college-prep tests. Brown continues to raise money and hosts an annual banquet that raises between $50,000 and $70,000.
Eighteen of Brown’s first class of first graders graduated from college. Three have gone on to graduate school. All are working, she says proudly. But Brown didn’t stop. She kept adopting a new group every four years and made the same promise to pay for college. This year, 21 more students started college, 20 are in ninth grade, 20 in fifth grade, and 20 in first grade, she says.
What She Learned
Parents need to be more accountable, Brown says. She now requires parents to meet with her and school officials monthly. “If they don’t come, we follow up,” she says. “If parents don’t care, kids don’t care.”
Where She Is Now
From the start, the Award brought Brown national attention. She continues to be interviewed on TV two to three times a year. She published her autobiography last spring titled The Promise: How One Woman Made Good on Her Extraordinary Pact to Send a Classroom of 1st Graders to College (Doubleday and Co., $22.95). She continues to attract funds. The Oakland Association of REALTORSŪ has contributed close to $125,000 to her foundation, and she has received donations from REALTORSŪ across the country. Brown’s mission remains the same: “to get kids out of high school and into college by any means,” she says.
Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation
Since broker Gil Gillenwater was selected as a Good Neighbor Awards winner in 2000, his Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation has made substantial capital improvements in the “Vecinos” housing program in Agua Prieta, Mexico, 200 miles across the border from his Scottsdale, Ariz., home and office at SDI Group.
Designed to house families, abandoned children, and the elderly, Vecinos, which means “neighbor” in Spanish, is nearing completion, with 36 of its 42 homes finished and 180 people in residence. An on-site computer learning center offers computer training and English tutoring classes. A $500,000 child care facility under construction will accommodate 165 preschool-age children.
With buildings almost completed, Gillenwater is focusing on the soft infrastructure:
How the Award Helped
Jill Rich, ABRŪ, GRI
American Red Cross
Volunteerism has long been Jill Rich’s middle name, even before she won the Good Neighbor Awards in 2000 for her American Red Cross disaster relief efforts. She still helps when the need arises. She recently pitched in to aid Hurricane Katrina evacuees who landed in Tucson, Ariz., where she lives and works as a salesperson at Realty Executives.
From Red Cross to ‘Mom Jill’
In 2001, Rich was pulled in another direction when a group of young men arrived in the United States. The media dubbed them “The Lost Boys of Sudan” because of their long trek on foot from Sudan to refugee camps in Kenya to escape the civil war in their country where many of their families were killed in front of their eyes. Many Lost Boys did not survive the long journey across Eastern Africa, but more than 3,600 were resettled in the United States. When a few arrived in Tucson, Rich offered “some” help.
More came—54 in all, aged 13 to 21— and Rich became their surrogate mom, helping them gain an education. “An education is something they all value to get ahead,” she says. To raise funds, Rich started the nonprofit The Sudanese Promise Fund in 2003.
Navigating Their New Land
How Rich Juggles
Rich shows her maternal side in countless ways. All 54 young men call her, as any son might, to ask for help or advice. She may help replace a flat tire on a car or a dead battery on a computer. She may help solve a calculus problem or provide old-fashioned tender loving care when someone has the flu. Many of the boys arrived in the United States with long-neglected medical and dental issues. She’s stayed nights in the hospital when one of her “sons” broke his jaw and another underwent heart surgery. Rich’s current goal is to secure more laptops by giving presentations wherever people will let her share the boys’ story. “They’re the passion of my life,” she says.
The feeling is mutual. “Many of us were orphaned as young boys and survived dangerous animal attacks and militia gunfire. After all that, we are orphans no more—not as long as Mom Jill is here,” says one.
How does she do it? “You can always find time for what’s important,” she says.
Amateur Athletic Union Ohio Stars Basketball Team
In 2003, the year after winning the Good Neighbor Awards for coaching the Ohio Stars, an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team composed of outstanding inner-city high-school players, Hal Ehretsman watched them play for the national championship.
Even though the Stars lost by 1 point on a last-second shot, getting to the championship game solidified Ehretsman’s national reputation, which will help raise more scholarship funds to send more players to college.
To make raising funds easier, Ehretsman started the nonprofit Ohio Stars Foundation in 2004. As executive director, he also seeks funds for the players’ families. “Some have returned from college or games to find their families evicted,” he says. He attributes many problems to Cleveland’s economy, ranked poorest among the country’s large cities in 2004.
How the Award Helped
Claudia Deprez, CIPS, CRB
Northend Coalition of Neighborhoods
When Claudia Deprez won a Good Neighbor Award in 2003 for her work with the Northend Coalition of Neighborhoods (NCON), a grassroots, inner-city group in West Palm Beach, Fla., fighting to reclaim its community from crime, drugs, and prostitution, everyone cheered. They also worried.
Deprez, a broker with Illustrated Properties Real Estate Inc. in West Palm Beach, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer within a week of learning about the award. She was told she might have three to six months to live.
Fast forward two years, and Deprez is doing “very, very, very well,” she says. “I’m in remission.” She knows she’s not home free. “One oncologist said I might be cured, but I know you don’t use the word ‘cure’ in the same sentence as stage 4 cancer,” she says.
How the Award Helped
Linda W. Norton, CRSŪ, GRI
Funding Partners for Housing Solutions
Providing affordable housing has long been Linda Norton’s mantra. Norton, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Fort Collins, Colo., won the Good Neighbor Awards in 2002 for her work as a founding member and president of Funding Partners for Housing Solutions, a nonprofit organization that helps developers and homeowners access loans. In the last decade, the group has helped 600 families.
A visible sign of success is the remodeled Northern Hotel, which houses seniors in 47 apartments. “Ft. Collins was written up by the AARP as one of the best places to retire, but that didn’t help low- and middle-income seniors here who had few choices,” she says.
Where others saw a derelict, condemned hotel to be razed, Norton saw an historic landmark to be saved and transformed. All units are occupied and ground-floor commercial tenants like Starbucks help defray operating costs.
Currently, Norton is working with for-profit developers, helping them secure loans for affordable-income projects. “We’ll work to get loans for nonprofit and for-profit groups as long as it’s for affordable housing since it’s still less than a bank loan,” she explains.
How the Award Helped
What She Dreams About
If Norton could be granted another big wish, she says it would be “millions and millions of dollars to create more affordable housing throughout Colorado.” Others have a big wish for her: that she win her battle against lung cancer. Norton was diagnosed with the cancer last year. Her office orchestrated a fund-raiser for her last year at a local bar with a pool and poker tournament, plus a large silent auction. “I felt very humble,” Norton says. Norton feels she’s on her way to winning. She finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments and is back at work.
Learn More About the Good Neighbor Awards
To learn more about the Good Neighbor Awards Program, how you can nominate someone for the award, and read about the new 2005 winners, go to the Good Neighbors home page.