From left, Good Neighbors Louise McLean, Bryson Garbett, Howard Hanna, Kay Wilson-Bolton, and Sal Dimiceli.
For communities to be strong, neighbors must unite and contribute to the overall well-being of their areas. But you don’t have to lead a charity or be an activist to make a positive impact where you live. REALTOR® Magazine’s 2017 Good Neighbor Award winners are a testament to just how big of an impact you can have in a community. The honorees were celebrated for their philanthropic leadership at a gala during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago on Saturday night. These community advocates imparted some advice on how everyone can be better stewards within their communities.
1. Don’t wait for a crisis before offering to help.
Louise McLean, whose nonprofit provides necessities for more than 2,200 homeless children in Florida’s Brevard County, recalled Hurricane Irma’s recent devastation in her state. “We shouldn’t wait for a storm to hit to be a good neighbor,” McLean said as she accepted her award. “Every day, someone is dealing with a storm in their own lives.”
For McLean, those are the children living in cars and using gas station bathrooms to get ready for school. She spoke of one 18-year-old boy who dropped out of school to care for his terminally ill mother, who had cancer. After her death, he had to get a job to support his family rather than return to school. But when his scoliosis made it difficult to maintain employment, his uncle kicked him out of the house. McLean’s foundation was able to pay for a place for him to live, provide him clothes, and put him back in school. “He’s a good student, and he just wants to graduate,” she said. “It only takes a little bit from a lot of us to make a difference.”
2. Start a chain of good deeds with one small gesture.
Bryson Garbett said even seemingly simple things can lead to long-term dramatic changes in people’s lives. Garnett has helped build 177 classrooms over the last 18 years for nearly 100,000 students in the poorest regions of Mexico. “If I can be part of a student’s lifeline, perhaps I can set off a chain reaction that will change an entire life or a generation,” he said. “Something as simple as a backpack on the door of a shack can represent the most unspeakable beauty of better things to come.”
Garbett’s efforts have helped others like young Anna, who had to make dinner over an open fire every night for her and her grandmother because they didn’t have a stove. Today, Anna is on track to be the first person in her family to graduate from high school. She plans to become an engineer. “The stories of the lives I’m helping to change are what drive me,” Garbett said.
3. Appreciate the people who share your vision.
Howard “Hoddy” Hanna, whose real estate company has raised more than $14 million for children’s hospitals worldwide, thanked his 9,000 agents around the country for buying into his philanthropic vision and helping him achieve his goals. No one achieves their greatest dreams alone, Hanna said. “I owe everything I’ve accomplished to the great people who work for me and my family,” said Hanna, who runs the company with his sisters.
4. Don’t leave it to others to address a pressing need.
Kay Wilson-Bolton said many in her community may be naive to the extent of homelessness in the area. “They’re invisible to my community, but they’re not invisible to God,” Wilson-Bolton said. “But I’ve never met a homeless person who didn’t have a mother, a birthday, a first day at school, or who didn’t once believe in Santa Claus.” Everyone—no matter what walk of life they’re from—deserves to be treated with humanity, she said. Wilson-Bolton’s charity helps to feed up to 600 homeless people a week.
Wilson-Bolton admitted that at one time, she wasn’t even aware of the extent of the homeless problem in her area either. But she refused to wait for someone else to do something about it. “I’ve learned to never say where I will not go or what I will not do,” she said. “God uses us to change lives. I’ve seen people returned to families and healed from shame and broken hearts.”
5. Show humility when someone asks for help.
Sal Dimiceli, who has helped thousands of poor people out of poverty, said that on a daily basis, he witnesses those who are struggling to afford shelter, food, and utilities. He devotes 10 to 12 hours a day to bring relief to people through his charity, Now Is the Time to Help. “I’ve looked into the eyes of children who are suffering, or senior citizens living in fear that they will be evicted,” Dimiceli said. “When I see the look in their eyes change from desperation to hope, it fills me with joy.”
Dimiceli, who has contributed $5 million of his own money to the charity, recalled growing up poor himself. He said his mother would regularly cry over their family’s disadvantages. It’s the memory of her tears that drives him to help others. “When I see pain, I address it,” he said. “That’s how I treat all of God’s creations.”