Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.
Good Neighbor Jill Rich: The Calm After the Storm
When calamity strikes, Jill Rich puts people back on their feet.
November 1, 2000
It happens all the time—at dinner, during a listing appointment, often in the middle of
Rich, a salesperson with Realty Executives of Tucson, is a volunteer with the local Red Cross' disaster relief program. One week out of every month she's on call--meaning it's her responsibility to be ready at a moment's notice to provide aid and comfort to the victims of fires, floods, storms, and other catastrophes in the Tucson area.
"Often we get there and people are standing around looking at a burned-down building," she says. "They're in shock. Usually they've lost everything. Sometimes there's been a death."
Rich's job is to assess the situation and provide whatever help is needed. "We find them shelter, give them vouchers for food and new clothes. If they need a prescription for a medical condition, we pay for it."
The "we" Rich is referring to may be herself or another volunteer, but just as often, it's the friend or client she was with the moment the pager went off.
"I've taken clients to fires before," she says. "Usually it happens when I'm out on showings. I let clients know in advance that I'm on call and that if they don't want to come, we should take different cars."
Rich has been a Red Cross volunteer for about 15 years in addition to being involved in a number of other charitable activities. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, she and her husband, Jim, were active in a refugee resettlement program. They served as temporary foster parents to about 40 Vietnamese children, even adopting and raising two as their own.
"We got completely immersed in it," she says. "The kids were 10–17 years old at the time. We're still in contact with many of them." Today, they mentor refugee families from Bosnia, Russia, and Ethiopia, teaching them about American culture, currency, banking, transportation, and other tools of daily life.
Rich has also gotten involved in a number of charities aimed at homeless people. She's head of homeless services for the local Red Cross and is also chairperson of the Tucson Planning Council's winter shelter program, Operation Deep Freeze. The program provides beds, hot meals, and medical services on cold winter nights.
"It's an enormous, multi-faceted program that gets activated when the temperature is either below 35 degrees or below 40 degrees with precipitation," she says. "The beds are mainly in churches and other congregations and gymnasiums. Last year, we provided more than 17,000 beds over the course of the winter."
Rich also is the founder of a program that provides homeless people with basic toiletries and warm winter clothing. She funds the program out of her own earnings. Last year, she and her husband distributed more than 3,000 pairs of socks and gloves, as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Despite spending an average of 20 hours a week on volunteer work, Rich has been named Realty Executives No. 1 Solo Residential Sales Associate for the last two years. How does she fit it all in?
"What I do best is juggle," she says. "I have no problem going from a disaster call to a listing appointment. That kind of flexibility comes naturally to me."
The reason, probably, is that Rich has been "juggling" volunteering with her other responsibilities for most of her life.
"I started when I was five," she says. "I remember it like yesterday. I heard a news report about children not having milk and asked my father--who was active in a number of charities--how that was possible, because we had lots of milk."
That led to a candy sale ("I sold Hershey bars at his office"), which raised $3.88 for the local milk fund.
"Volunteering keeps me centered and gives me a more realistic view of the world," she says. "I couldn't imagine a life without it."
How to contact Jill Rich
1745 E. River Road, Suite 245
Tucson, Ariz. 85718
American Red Cross, Southern Arizona Chapter
4601 E. Broadway
Tucson, Ariz. 85711