People give back to their community by donating money and time to help organizations that have helped them or their families or to support causes they believe in. Many people also contribute to organizations or participate in fundraising events because it gives them an opportunity to network while doing good. Often it is a combination of these motivations, but the net result is the same, when people volunteer, the entire community benefits from their efforts.

In our country we have a rich tradition of voluteerism and the number of us who give our time and energy to charitable organizations is growing. A recent press release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2011, 64.3 million people volunteered at least once during the year representing a steady increase in the volunteer rate.
In the Charlottesville area we are fortunate to have many volunteers, including lots of local real estate professionals, who take time out from their incredibly busy schedules to give back to the community in a host of ways.
Life Experiences Prompt a Desire to Give Back
Real estate is a demanding profession which often requires long hours and weekend work. Contracts requiring immediate attention can come in at any minute and it is a rare agent who has not been on the phone or working with clients late at night, early in the morning or throughout the weekend. Further, since they are self employed, real estate professionals only make money when they are working. Why then do so many of them take time out to give back to others?
Sometimes it is because at some point in an agent’s life, they or a member of their family have benefitted from the services of a particular organization. A good example is Tommy Brannock, a REALTOR® with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III whose mother had Alzheimer’s for the last four years of her life. Brannock said the Alzheimer’s Association was very helpful to his family during that time and he wanted to “give back to the organization.”
For this reason he and his Team Brannock participate in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and have been the leading fund raisers for over twelve years. He said, “I have a lot of people now who just give automatically because they know I will be asking them anyway.”
James Dickerson, a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Assured Properties, spends a lot of his time as a scout master for the Boy Scouts. As a child he was a scout, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout. It is the personal benefit he received from scouting that motivates him to be active today and to encourage first his kids and then his grandkids to be part of the organization. “Scouting,” he said, “supports development of leadership, problem solving and values, all of them skills that are helpful for life.”
A current project is to get Cub Scout pack 143 up and running at Zion Methodist Church where he is an active member. “We’ve had a great first year growing from 4 boys to almost 30 boys participating in the pack,” he explained.
Strong family ties to the area are part of what motivates Edwina St. Rose, a REALTOR® with Montague Miller & Co. She is active in a variety of volunteer organizations that focus on history, including Celebrate!250, a year long celebration of Charlottesville’s 250th anniversary, where she serves on the steering committee. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. She explained that she has a special interest in family history, particularly African-American history and is actively involved in geneology-related research. Her family is from Charlottesville and “their roots go way back,” she said. She loves the area, which she left for a time before coming back to stay for good. In 2011 St. Rose received a Montague Miller & Co. Community Service Award in recognition of all of her volunteer work giving back to the Charlottesville community.
Coincidence Plays a Role
In some instances REALTORS® find themselves volunteering for organizations to which they have no prior ties, until something unexpected happens which pulls them in a particular direction in spite of themselves.
For example, Brannock is an avid supporter of the Virginia Institute for Autism (VIA), a local school for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders. The organization also provides resources for family members and consulting services for educators in schools throughout the state. Brannock has served on the board of VIA for nine years, twice as president.
He has no family members or close friends with autism, but over 10 years ago the then board president of the association asked him for help finding a new school campus. Coincidentally, about that same time his daughter had a babysitting job for a family with two autistic children. Between these two events, he became interested in autism. Because of this he said yes when the board asked him to help out with a capital campaign, and he was so impressed by the organization that ten years later he is still very active.
Like many of her fellow agents, Amy Webb with Nest Realty contributes her time to several different charitable activities. One of her interests is the Shelter for Help in Emergency (SHE) a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Every year the organization sponsors an event in which a homeowner agrees to having each room in his or her home redecorated by local designers who donate their work. Visitors then pay to tour the home and view the results. Webb was asked by the development director of SHE to help locate a home to lease for this year’s event, a job which she did pro bono.
About this same time she (coincidentally) bumped into a friend at Whole Foods who told her about a new teen auxilliary affiliated with SHE, which is dedicated to raising awareness about date abuse. As a result of this meeting, Webb’s teenaged daughter became part of the auxilliary, which helps with fundraising for the shelter, as well as with education about date abuse in the local high schools. Recently on Valentine’s Day she participated in a date abuse vigil that was held on the downtown mall.
Shared Interests Motivate Volunteer Activity
Sometimes people become involved in charitable activties because of common interests they share with others at the office.
A good example is Tom’s Garden, which is a project of Nest Realty. Tom’s Garden promotes community gardening projects in our area by awarding small grants to schools, neighborhood groups and other local organizations. Webb explained that the idea for Tom’s Garden evolved from conversations between agents who wanted to do something for the community. The website explains their intention like this:
“In addition to sharing a profession, we share a commitment to our community, an interest in the local food movement and ecology, and a firm conviction that community gardens enhance quality of life.” 
Supporting community gardens is a good fit for real estate professionals interested in maintaining a high quality of life in local communities. “Working together in gardens helps build community and increases the green space in residential settings,” Webb said. She added that “Gardening is a way for families to spend leisure time together that’s non-electronic.”
Tom’s Garden usually give 4 to 5 grants in both summer and fall with funds coming from Nest brokers and contributions from individual agents. They have few requirements but do request that grantees use their garden in part for educational purposes and that they donate some of the produce to the hungry.  Webb currently coordinates this program, but will soon be handing off the responsibility to Martha Campbell, another Nest agent.
Agents Volunteer for Personal Reasons
Most of the agents indicated that they like to volunteer because it is rewarding. Dickerson expressed it like this. “Volunteering refreshes you and makes it easier to deal with issues at work.”
He explained that spending time with the scouts or fundraising for the Shriner’s hospitals for children, another of his projects, keeps it all in perspective.
“It’s really about balance,” he said. “When I can get away and focus on a community project I can address the problems back at the office from a different point of view.” When asked how he manages to get it all done, he explained that he works by setting aside dedicated blocks of time for different activities. That way they all get the attention they deserve.
Volunteering can also reflect an agent’s personal interests. For example, Brannock coaches 4-6 year olds in Lacrosse because he loves sports, and because he enjoys working with young children. He started when his son, who is now 26, was 4 years old, and continues to coach because he loves to do it. 
He described the coaching as “fun and rewarding.” 
“It’s great to watch young children learn about sportsmanship, develop skills and give each other high fives when they do a good job,” he said.  
He has been at it so long that just about everyone calls their practice field the “Brannock Bowl.”
Agents Volunteer because They Believe It’s Right
St. Rose, who also sits on the Boards of Leadership Charlottesville and the Ivy Creek Foundation, stated that for her the volunteer work is enjoyable and a way to meet people. However she also receives a lot of satisfaction from giving back to the community. “Everyone should do it,” she said. “We should all try to help others whenever and however we can.”
Dickerson expressed similar sentiments when he explained that he learned the importance of giving back when he was growing up. “My parents and grandparents always gave back to the community,” he said. He just follows their example with his own activities.
From her perspective, Webb stated that she believes it is our responsibility as citizens to get involved. As a single mom in a demanding profession with teenaged children at home, she has chosen volunteer opportunities which are satisfying but not as time-intensive as some others. Much of what she does can be accomplished by sitting in front of a computer.
Ultimately, like the other agents, she takes time to volunteer because it is very rewarding. “A small effort can have a big impact on people’s lives,” she said. In her case a $250 grant to help an organization start a garden can have a ripple effect on the whole community and she is happy to be the catalyst that gets it all going.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, editor and author of Sold on Me, Daily Inspiration for Real Estate Agents. She lives near Charlottesville.