REALTORS® Give Back

Heart at the human hands Heart at the human hands

Charlottesville Real Estate Professionals Give Generously to Many Worthwhile Organizations

People volunteer for many reasons. They want to make a difference and to share special skills like fund raising. Sometimes they also want to network, gain visibility and make personal and business contacts. As volunteers they give generously to individuals, their community and to our economy. For example, the Corporation for National and Community Service reported that in 2014, 62.6 million Americans donated 7.7 billion hours with an economic value of $173 billion.

The real estate professionals in our area are no exception. In a recent online survey conducted by CAAR (Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®) 94 percent of 99 respondents reported giving an average of five hours per week to volunteer activities such as children and schools, religious organizations, people with housing needs, seniors, the hungry and more.

Ultimately we all benefit when our local hard working real estate professionals make a commitment to a cause they love giving back their time, talents and money to the community that supports them in their business.

Lots of Ways to Volunteer

Why would a busy, successful real estate professional take time out of their schedule to help others? There are many reasons and many organizations that benefit. Here are just a few.

Vicki Wilson, owner and principal broker of Monticello Country Realtors, is a good example. Describing herself as “extremely busy,” she nonetheless said yes when, in 2008, a friend suggested she help out with the Meals on Wheels program in Fluvanna County. “This was the same year my twin boys went off to college, so I thought it would be good for me,” she said. Wilson was familiar with the organization as various family members were involved, including her father who delivers meals in Louisa County every Friday. She accepted the job of delivery driver every Wednesday and never looked back.

“I think what is special to me is helping with an organization that is so needed. The homebound, elderly clients may not see anyone or eat a decent meal if it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels. It may also be their only source of daily contact,” Wilson continued.

Jay Dominic is a mortgage loan officer with Movement Mortgage in Charlottesville, where “giving is part of the culture,” he said. Employee contributions to various organizations are backed by the affiliated Movement Foundation, which does a dollar for dollar match. One of their organizations is Toy Lift, which collects toys and books for children in families that are experiencing challenging circumstances. It is run entirely by volunteers, and all of the collected items go to children in Charlottesville City and surrounding counties. Recently Movement Mortgage partnered with Roy Wheeler Realty to sponsor a chili cook off that raised $600 for Toy Lift.

“If you live in a community you should help out when you can,” Dominic said about his participation in Toy Lift. He described the experience of working with a local charity as rewarding, where there is what he called a “tangible benefit.”

Sometimes the urge to help comes from a personal connection. Angie Woodson, with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III, loves to help kids. However, she also knows her best childhood friend has a son with autism, as does a co-worker’s grandson, so she decided to make a difference by helping the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA). “It’s very important to give back to the community,” she said “because the community is what helped my business grow.”

The VIA helps with the special needs of autistic kids by providing education, looking out for their needs in the school system and providing a support system for them and their families. A long time member of the community, Woodson helps with fundraising and getting the word out via networking.

One creative way she fundraises is by combining her passion for helping autistic kids with her real estate practice. She does this by having fundraising events at some of her open houses. For example, on June 7 from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. she is holding open her listing at 3266 Darby Road in Glenmore, but the event will also include vendors and a silent auction to raise money for VIA. “The homeowners love it because it brings more people in,” she said. To provide more incentive she gives away prizes such as a weekend away or has a local celebrity such as an author doing book signings.

Charlottesville’s Ronald McDonald House is another project that receives help from a local real estate professional. A year ago, Ginger Slavic with Long and Foster, was honored in part for her service there when she was awarded the CAAR Good Neighbor Award given to agents who volunteer a significant amount of time on projects with a lasting impact. Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to stay when they have children in critical care in one of the local hospitals. The minimal cost of $15 a day is waived for families who can’t afford to pay.

Slavic, who currently serves as a board member, was involved with this charity when the house was built some years ago. Recently it was redesigned as part of a major renovation and now includes 19 rooms with private baths and an open kitchen with four cook stations plus a gathering room.

She has always had an interest in giving back and participated for years with Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. “It’s just who I am,” she said. However, she likes working for the Ronald McDonald organization in part because “housing is my thing,” she said.

A belief in paying it forward is what motivates Kim Armstrong with ERA Bill May Realty Co. “When we help others, we help ourselves,” she said, adding that volunteering is a great way “to be out in the community and to be part of the community.”

She loves fundraisers and one of her favorites is Bras for a Cause, sponsored by the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors, which raises money for Flourish, a special boutique at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. Flourish is “designed to help those facing cancer to look and feel their best,” and offers such items as prosthetics, hats and wigs at a discount.

This year is the fifth annual Bras for a Cause event and will be held on October 2 at the Elks Lodge. As many as 200 people typically participate each year to have fun and enjoy the food and a cash bar. However the main event is watching 12 to 15 male volunteers model bras. The models can be creative. For example, Armstrong described one who did a tap dance routine as part of his walk down the runway. Others have incorporated a motorcycle and even a small tractor as part of their presentations. One year the model was a dog from Blue Ridge Pest Control.

The models all carry pink buckets and spectators vote on their favorites by giving them bra bucks, available for purchase during the evening after the handful that came with their tickets are used up. Men receive trophies for the most bra bucks and for being the most creative. One of the bras is always auctioned off bringing more donations, once as much as $900.

Armstrong also helps fund raise for AHIP (Albemarle Housing Improvement Program), which has a mission of ensuring safe affordable housing allowing seniors and others to keep living in their homes. Projects could include roof repair, adding a wheelchair ramp, repairing faulty wiring or replacing broken doors and windows, anything to make a home safer.

The housing connection attracts lots of agent assistance including Anne Burroughs with Montague, Miller & Co. Burroughs said giving back is at the “core of who she is.” It helps round out her experience as a REALTOR® which otherwise would be “very shallow,” she added. Since “housing is where her heart is,” giving to AHIP makes sense.

Like many of the other agents, Burroughs is involved with fund raising. One such event is an annual affair called The House Party, which this year will be on September 25. It features hors d’oeuvres and a live and silent auction, which in the past have raised in excess of $25,000. Working with AHIP helps Buroughs “really feel like she can make a difference.” She likes that this is an organization with a clear message and a visible impact.

Karen Dowell, with Roy Wheeler Realty, is another successful agent who dedicates time to her favorite charity, Kiwanis. She explained that she has gotten a lot out of her career and her success, but over the years has come to realize the importance of giving back. She researched possible organizations but what drew her to Kiwanis is that children’s needs are “close to her heart.” Kiwanis is an international non-profit that teaches children about service and leadership through age appropriate groups and activities. Part of the appeal is that this organization also partners with other non-profits extending the reach and helping even more people.

Dowell is on the PR committee, which focuses on getting the message out to the public about the organization and about fundraising projects, such as the 5K Race they sponsor in July to benefit Camp Holiday Trails. While the organization focuses on children, some of their activities also help other kinds of organizations. For example, Hospice of the PIedmont was a recipient of funds from the proceeds of the annual Kiwanis pancake breakfast this year. At the international level, Kiwanis works with the March of Dimes on a project to eliminate neonatal tetanus, traditionally a major cause of mortality in this age group.Today tetanus has been eliminated in 85 percent of countries and the project has been extended another five years to eradicate it completely.

The Benefits of Volunteering

If you were thinking about volunteering, these agents would encourage you to go for it. Dowell advises that it is a great antidote to stress to get outside of yourself and do something good for someone else. Wilson expressed a similar sentiment when she said (about her Wednesday lunch deliveries), “I consider it my lunch break and stress reliever.” She added, “I would say to anyone that thinks they are too busy…to think about your neighbor. They could be your mom, dad, brother or sister. Oh, and you can write off your miles on your tax return,” she added.

Woodson suggests that when deciding to volunteer, “pick a passion.” Find something that has “a special spot for you, then when you make a decision, be committed.” She added that in her experience volunteering “increases your compassion and understanding of others.”

All of these real estate professionals urge you to join them in volunteering. When you do so you help build a stronger community, and make our area a better place to live. Contributions are also always welcome.

By Celeste M. Smucker, PhD

Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.