February 1, 2005
By Elyse Umlauf-Garneau
Real estate professionals across the country found their own, sometimes unique, ways to pitch into the relief efforts to aid the victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devastated many countries in South Asia. Here are some of the ways creative, bighearted REALTORS® have helped.
Will Vasana, GRI, of Watson Realty Corp. in Jacksonville, Fla., saw the destruction firsthand. He was vacationing in Bangkok in his native Thailand when the storm hit. He stayed until the end of January and traveled south to spend three days volunteering in the Pang-Nga province, the hardest hit area in southern Thailand. He worked with a group of volunteers on three goals: counseling traumatized children who lost their families; establishing temporary shelters for families that lost homes and possessions; and providing food, medical supplies, financial aid, and equipment necessary for families to cope with the hardships and to regain their way of life.
"It was quite an experience and I'll never forget the faces of many children with whom I worked and spent time getting to know," Vasana says. "Donations, food, supplies, and volunteers showed up everywhere I turned, and the conditions in southern Thailand have improved tremendously."
Vasana says, for those with an urge to travel to tsunami-ravaged areas, there are many ways to contribute to the effort-beyond the financial. He saw students cleaning up debris along the beaches and volunteers scuba diving to study the impact of the tsunami on marine life. Another group rescued dogs that had been swept away to remote islands and survived for days without food and water. Others donated boats and fishing gear to fishermen, so that they could return to work and not rely solely on relief funds to jumpstart their lives.
Dennis Byrne, a sales associate with Cape Shores Real Estate in Wellfleet, Mass., intends to donate 50 percent of his commissions from every house he sells between January and May to the REALTOR® Tsunami Relief Project . "I hope I can inspire others to do something similar," he says. "Although I have no personal ties to those who have lost their lives, I have pain and sadness for the millions who have lost close family members. If half my income will enable some of those people to receive living quarters, survive the pain of family members lost, and rebuild their lives, then I can't sit back and do nothing."
Bev George & Associates, REALTORS®, in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon, Ill., has pledged $100 from every residential closing in 2005 to Save the Children. The Westport, Conn.-based nonprofit child-assistance organization has been supplying food, water, medical kits, shelter, and other necessities to help children and their families mainly in the three most affected countries: Indonesia , Sri Lanka, and India. The organization also has been leading efforts to protect children from exploitation, including launching a major effort to register and reunify separated and orphaned children with families and communities.
Ira Serkes, ABR, CRS, a salesperson with RE/MAX Executive in Berkeley, Calif., was discussing a year-end bonus with assistant Kim Hughes and she said, "Please just donate it directly to tsunami relief." Serkes did. He also changed the home page on his Web site to promote links to reputable charity organizations accepting disaster relief donations.
Steve Mohseni, a sales associate with Mohseni & Associates in Pleasanton, Calif., established the Bay Area Tsunami Relief to collect donations for the American Red Cross. Contributors were entered in a drawing to win prizes, such as gift cards and restaurant gift certificates, donated by local merchants, community leaders, and businesses. At press time, the effort had generated $8,000.
Long Realty in Tucson, Ariz., donated in excess of $57,000 to World Care and Oxfam for tsunami victims. The 12 offices in southern Arizona raised funds in a number of ways. Long Realty Cares Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Long Cos. (Long Realty, Long Mortgage, Long Title, and Long Insurance) made an outright donation, and during January, a fundraising drive was held in which donations from salespeople and employees of Long Cos. were matched. Additional efforts included selling raffle tickets for two paintings by artist Jean Francois Detaille, and collecting hygiene products, blankets, tools, and clothing.
Beth Daly's teenage daughter Brittany Rouille and her friend Laura Pratt, wanted to involve their peers in a tsunami fundraiser. Daly, e-PRO®, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Previews International in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and the girls decided to design and sell silicone wristbands. The girls created a logo with the word "Survive" and opted for teal-colored bands to represent the shade of sea water. The three ordered 5,000 bracelets. When they arrive by mid-February, the girls will sell them at their high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, and around the community for $5. Daly already has orders for about 100 bracelets. The women hope their efforts will reach beyond just their community. The bands will be available through Daly's Web site, and Rouille and Pratt intend to contact the media to raise the profile of their project.
Ray Magruder, broker and salesperson with Assist-2-Sell in Columbia, Mo., is co-founder of Rising Stars Sports Association, an at-risk youth sporting association. On Feb. 20, the group is hosting a community-wide basketball event, including a free-throw shooting competition, to raise money for the American Red Cross's tsunami relief efforts. The event is the brainchild of a fourth grade athlete, Logan Moore. He and Magruder have promoted the event through appearances on the local news, and Magruder sent notes to 550 people asking for support. Moore is distributing 13,000 promotional flyers throughout the community.
Prudential California Realty in Pleasanton, Calif., and VIP Consultants (a group of practitioners from Prudential California Realty's Warm Springs office) have pledged to donate $100 to Prudential CARES Disaster Relief Fund-South Asia for each real estate sales transaction that results from business generated from the seminar for up to 90 days.
Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach, Fla., recently celebrated the firm's record year in sales at their annual awards breakfast held at the Ibis Golf and Country Club. The event, which honors Illustrated's top producers, helped raise $18,000 for AmeriCares' Tsunami Relief fund.
"We thought that instead of purchasing the give-aways for everyone, we would instead put the money towards a donation for tsunami relief," says F.F. Chappy Adams, president of Illustrated Properties. "The initial donation sparked the idea for turning the breakfast into a bigger opportunity where our associates could really make an impact."
The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has officially closed the Tsunami Relief Project. NAR President Al Mansell presented Habitat for Humanity with a check for $1,572,783.20 at a press conference at NAR's new Washington, D.C., office building on March 15, 2005. The money will go toward building at least 1,000 transitional houses for displaced victims in four of the hardest-hit countries in Southeast Asia. A total of 6,800 REALTORS®, state and local REALTOR® associations, and private companies contributed to the overwhelming success of the project.