Volunteers are a valued part of our society and our economy. In 2012, the Corporation for National and Community Service reported that 64.5 million Americans volunteered a total of 7.9 billion hours, which had an estimated economic value of $175 billion.
In Charlottesville, an online survey conducted by CAAR (Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS) found that 94 percent of the 99 respondents reported they give an average of five hours per week to a wide range of volunteer activities. These individuals help with children and schools, give time through religious organizations, and are active with issues involving housing, seniors, the local food bank and many more.
People choose to volunteer for many reasons, including a desire to make a difference, to share special skills or develop new ones (such as fund raising or public speaking), or to gain visibility and make contacts. Regardless, we all benefit when individuals such as our local hard working real estate professionals go outside of themselves and share what they have with the wider community.
Why They Volunteer
Successful real estate professionals are busy with their work and make a good deal of money. So why do they take time to help others?
Pat Wood is a REALTOR® with Sloan Manis Real Estate Partners. A former nurse, she has volunteered at the Charlottesville Free Clinic since 1999. The Free Clinic serves Charlottesville’s working uninsured population, and thanks to Wood’s love of nursing and desire to help others, the 160 hours she gave last year benefitted as many as 400 patients. In December of 2013 she received the CAAR Good Neighbor Award that recognizes REALTORS® who give a significant amount of volunteer time. Wood encourages others to volunteer, saying that giving of yourself is rewarding and makes you feel good.
Our real estate professionals also give out of a desire to give back to the community where they make their living. “I get as much as I give,” said Pam Dent with Gayle Harvey Real Estate, Inc., adding that for her, “life needs to have a purpose other than just making money.” Dent has participated in fundraising for AHIP (Albemarle Housing Improvement Project) as part of her participation with the Communication Committee at CAAR. Her commitment to the AHIP mission of keeping people safe at home means she plans to continue her involvement there even after completing her work on the CAAR committee.
Another Good Neighbor Award winner, Francesca San Giorgio with Four Seasons Realty, works at the Nelson County Pantry, which is affiliated with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. The Nelson pantry serves 700 people a month including 250 families. Every month volunteers like San Giorgio assemble and distribute over 700 bags of groceries, an activity which requires a total of 250 volunteer hours. San Giorgio was looking for the right volunteer opportunity and the food pantry was the one that “caught my heart,” she said, adding that “it could be you or I in that line.”
For Jim McVay with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., volunteering is “how I was raised.” McVay is a supporter of MACAA (Monticello Area Community Action Agency) that has a mission of helping to lift people out of poverty through training and education. His involvement there started with a personal charitable activity that he does annually. Ten years ago a friend at social services suggested he do something to help kids, but not during the holidays since that is the one time of year when they receive lots of other gifts.
As a strong believer in the importance of education, McVay decided to help young kids get off to a good start in school. Every year he buys 50 backpacks and fills them with school supplies, according to advice he received from a local kindergarten teacher about what would be most useful. His relationship with MACAA began when he approached them about helping to distribute the back packs to kids who need them the most.
“Imagine what the backpacks do for the attitude of these kids just starting school,” McVay said. Instead of showing up with nothing they have “cool backpacks with writing materials like paper, pens and pencils.” This year will be the tenth in a row that he has given away the backpacks.
Like Wood, McVay described his giving as rewarding. “It is not a sacrifice,” but rather, he said, “when I give I feel better.”
Sometimes agents choose to volunteer because of a personal experience they have had. For example, Bill Howard with Real Estate III Commercial Properties is known for his annual sponsorship of the Alzheimer’s Association Golf Tournament at Birdwood. This year marked the 16th such tournament and Howard was honored for his consistent fundraising efforts when a year ago in March he received the very first CAAR Good Neighbor Award.
The original motivation for initiating the tournament came when Howard’s father died of Alzheimers seventeen years ago. Barck then the local Alzheimer’s Association, which was just one full time person and two volunteers, offered resources to help his family through this difficult time. It was out of gratitude for their help that he wanted to give back. Due to past experience he said to himself “I know how to raise money,” and that was the start of the tournament. He started talking to people including someone at Pepsi of Central Virginia which became his very first sponsor. Overall the tournament raised about $20,000 that first year. This year’s tournament, sixteen years later, raised over $1 million.
Some Volunteer Opportunities Just Happen
Sometimes agents find unexpected opportunities to volunteer. Tara Savage, with Judy Savage & Company Realtors, said “I never really had a fondness for cats.” Yet her main volunteer effort is fostering cats and kittens for the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, our local no-kill animal shelter.
Three years ago, Savage and her daughter found a kitten in a parking lot. Her daughter wanted to keep the kitten, but instead they took it to the SPCA. While they were there they decided to sign up for fostering. “I don’t have a fenced yard,” Savage said, “so we can’t foster dogs.” Instead they foster cats and kittens.
The SPCA calls them whenever they have animals that need a temporary place to stay. Sometimes it is an adult cat that needs a break from the shelter or a chance for some socialization. Sometimes an animal has some kind of infection and needs medication, or it might be a litter of kittens too young to neuter who need a place to stay until they are old enough. “Sometimes,” Savage said, “we just go to the SPCA to play with the animals and while we are there, ask if they have any cats to foster.”
It was also a coincidence that made Tommy Brannock with Loring Woodriff Real Estate Associates, an avid supporter of the Virginia Institute for Autism (VIA), a local school for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders, where he served on the Board for twelve years. He has no family members or close friends with autism, but 12 years ago the Association’s board president asked him to help find a new school campus. About that same time his daughter baby sat for a family with two autistic children. The coming together of these two events triggered his interest in autism.
VIA’s biggest fundraiser is the 5K Run for Autism. To help support that event, Brannock, who also volunteers as a girls’ lacrosse coach, created what he calls the Golden Stick Challenge. This is an annual competition between the girls’ lacrosse teams at the various local high schools. The teams compete to see which one can enroll the largest number of participants in the VIA 5K, and the prize is a lacrosse stick painted gold which the winning team gets to keep for a year. This competition alone has helped raise more than $100,000 for the VIA 5K over the years. It has also raised the girls’ awareness of autism and motivated some of them to also participate in other ways.
Many Ways to Make a Difference
Local REALTORS® volunteer in many capacities. Clearly fundraising is a big one.
An agent who gives fundraising a unique twist is Betty Aguilar with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III. Aguilar, who created a concept called Win Win For a Cause, donates 10 percent of her commissions from every closed transaction to local, mostly small, charities. Donations are made in the name of the clients involved in that particular transaction.
“It is often the small organizations which struggle for financing,” Aguilar said. Her clients can choose from a list on her Win Win For a Cause website where she links to a variety of organizations that serve children, the elderly, the environment and animals. Clients sometimes have suggestions of local worthy organizations such as one she learned about recently called A Fertile Foundation which offers what they call “farm therapy” to individuals with special needs helping them to connect with nature.
Aguilar’s clients have 30 days after their home closes to give her a name of an organization for the donation. If for some reason she doesn’t hear back from them she still makes a donation, sometimes asking for suggestions from her followers on Facebook, but always the funds are given.
Why does she do it? “I realized at one point that I spent a lot of time working and that didn’t leave much for other activities, but I do have resources,” she said. The result was Win Win For a Cause and the regular donation of thousands of dollars to local organizations.
Agents also do hands on volunteer work. The volunteer hours that Wood, Savage and San Giorgio contribute at their respective charities are good examples. Dent sometimes gets involved with AHIP renovation projects, such as the deck they built for an individual who wasn’t allowed to return home from a hospital visit because his home wasn’t wheel chair accessible.
While hands-on opportunities may be time consuming, there are exceptions. Savage explained that when you foster animals, all the “work” is done at home, although occasionally it offers unique challenges. She once had a cat which managed to get in the space behind her tub and down into the floor joists above her family room while she was in midst of a repair project. To get him out she had to have a friend cut a hole in the family room ceiling.
All Volunteers Welcome
All of these local real estate professionals urge you to join them in their activities. Not only are they rewarding but they help build a stronger community, making the Charlottesville area a better place to live. Contributions are also always welcome. While big ones are great, the agents all agree that the organizations are grateful for whatever you can afford to give.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author. She lives near Charlottesville.