Our Good Neighbor Nominees for 2006
July 1, 2006
Meet our 10 finalists for the 2006 Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program recognizing REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, five winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause.
Diversified Real Estate Services/GMAC
Knox County Teen Court
Good Neighbor Finalist Pioneered Teen Court
Lolita Junk is confident that teen offenders can find their way back to the straight and narrow if they learn to take responsibility for their actions. That’s why she founded the Knox County Teen Court, an all-volunteer court in which high school students serve as jurors and attorneys, police officers are bailiffs, and local lawyers are the judges.
“With our courts full of felonies, most of the time a teen gets a slap on the hand but there are no consequences,” says Junk, a broker with Diversified Real Estate Services GMAC in Galesburg, Ill. But in teen court, offenders are held accountable by a jury of their peers, which sometimes includes past defendants.
The teen court, founded in 1993, has helped more than 1,500 juvenile first-time offenders get a second chance for a clean record.
Illinois attorney Steve Watts, who has served as a teen court judge and as a board president for nine years, says the court is “an integral part” of the local criminal justice system. "Before this, there wasn’t anything formal to help kids that were walking the fence,” he says.
Theft, Fighting Most Common Offenses
Roughly 12 teens go before the teen court every month. Since most of the volunteers have day jobs, the semi-monthly hearings are held at night at the local courthouse. Most of the offenses involve illegal consumption, theft, battery, curfew violations, and truancy. “Fighting is a big one,” Junk says.
Teens have been doled out punishments ranging from community service and anger management class to drug and alcohol counseling. Sometimes, more non-traditional punishments emerge. “One teen had to do five nice things for a neighbor after destroying her lawn ornaments,” says Junk.
Since Junk started the first teen court in Illinois, more than 130 similar programs have sprouted throughout the state. Junk has shared her expertise with other teen courts around the country and even met with Japanese officials to help jumpstart a teen court there.
The idea has spread so quickly because it works, Junk says. The recidivism rate in Knox County is around 8 percent — unusually low, says Junk. Once teens have been through the system, they’re not forgotten.
An Opportunity to Change Lives
Every month Junk compares police reports with the list of participants to make sure they’re not getting into trouble. Nothing is more satisfying to Junk than getting a graduation invitation or a sincere ‘thank you’ from a former teen court defendant.
“Early intervention gives students a great opportunity to change their lives," says Junk. "I didn’t realize what a difference this program could make, but it has. It changes lives.”
You can contact Junk at Diversified Real Estate Services/GMAC, 341 E. Main St., Galesburg, IL 61401; 309/342-9131; firstname.lastname@example.org or Knox County Teen Court, P.O. Box 1387; Galesburg, IL, 61402-1387; email@example.com.
Sharon Friend, CRS®
Las Vegas Realty, Las Vegas, Nev.
The Children’s Service Guild
Good Neighbor Finalist Keeps Kids at Forefront
Sharon Friend lives up to her name. Over the past 11 years, she has befriended thousands of children through her work as president of the Children’s Services Guild, a nonprofit organization that serves children who are touched by the family court system in Las Vegas and Clark County, Nev.
Friend has helped the Guild raise more than $1.8 million dollars since 2000 for local organizations that benefit children. A hefty portion of the funding is directed to Child Haven, a six-cottage campus that provides temporary housing, education, and care to more than 5,000 abused a neglected children who are under the protective custody of the Clark County court system.
The Children’s Service Guild also sponsors Spring Mountain Youth Camp, a Las Vegas work program for teenage boys who’ve had run-ins with the law. The 100-bed camp is filled to capacity throughout the year, filling the teens' therapeutic, educational, social, medical, and recreational needs.
Steps In at Critical Times
“If you care about children, you do what needs to be done to help them,” says Friend, CRS®, a broker with Las Vegas Realty, who's been known to step in when organizations need funding or equipment at critical times.
One example: An urgent request for a special bed and motorized wheelchair for a quadriplegic child who had been admitted to Child Haven.
“If we had waited for Medicaid or for some other government assistance, the child would have been without for weeks,” says Lou Palma, manager of Shelter Services for the Clark County Department of Family Services.
Making Time to Volunteer
As a busy real estate practitioner, Friend says time management is key to her successful volunteer efforts.
“I learned how to manage my time, which is what it takes to be successful, whether you’re closing a real estate transaction or trying to find a wheel chair for a child in need,” she says.
Contact Sharon Friend at Las Vegas Realty, 3210 W. Charleston Blvd.; Las Vegas, NV 89102; 702 379-0510; firstname.lastname@example.org or The Children’s Service Guild; 701 N. Pecos, Las Vegas, NV 89101; 702/455-5390.
Coldwell Banker, Conklin & Co., Hailey, Idaho
American Cancer Society’s Camp Rainbow Gold
Good Neighbor Finalist Helps Children With Cancer
Rob Cronin uses his first-hand experiences to help children with cancer embrace life. "I made a deal with God on the day of my diagnosis that if he let me live, I would make a positive difference,” says Cronin, a cancer survivor. “Each minute I spend with these kids gives true meaning to the reason I am still alive.”
Cronin, a successful restaurant owner as well as a real estate sales associate with Coldwell Banker Conklin & Co. in Sun Valley, Idaho, is a dedicated volunteer with American Cancer’s Society’s Camp Rainbow Gold, a free one-week outdoor haven for children with cancer.
“You can see them change from the moment they step off the bus,” says Cronin. “First they smell the fresh air and pine needles and then they see that they're not so different from other kids. Then the walls start coming down and the bonding begins.”
Clayton Anderson, 12, has been coming to Camp Rainbow Gold for five years and he speaks in the universal language of teenagers. “Rob is cool,” he says. “He’s had cancer just like most of these kids. He’s awesome.”
Instrumental in Fundraising
Since January 2005, Cronin has volunteered nearly 2,000 hours and recruited others to volunteer thousands of additional hours. He’s as also been instrumental in helping the camp raise $1.4 million dollars in two years. The money will be used for a new scholarship program to send former campers to college and to help the camp buy land and equipment.
Cronin has filled practically every role at Camp Rainbow Gold: board member, fund raiser, counselor, activities director, and camp director. He says he loves every minute that he spends working with the Camp Rainbow Gold, but the best part is seeing how the experience affects the campers.
“Kids leave camp with more confidence and with the knowledge that they have something to give other kids with cancer,” he says. “It’s a life-changing experience for everyone.”
Jack Conway,GRI, CRB
Jack Conway & Company, Norwell, Mass.
MainSpring Coalition for the Homeless
Good Neighbor Finalist Reaches Out to Homeless
Jack Conway works hard at finding shelter for people who need it. Not just for buyers and sellers in his town of Norwell, Mass., but for people who otherwise would be living in the streets.
Through his involvement with MainSpring Coalition for the Homeless — an organization that his wife, Patti, and a friend of hers formed in 1981 — Conway uses his real estate savvy to find buildings that can be turned into homeless shelters. Then his personality kicks in, as he generates momentum in the community to make the project happen.
“I make my living out of selling houses to people with bank accounts," says Conway, broker-owner of Jack Conway and Co. "But [the homeless people we help] are just as important to the community.”
Providing a Good Night's Rest
Conway found MainSpring’s very first shelter location, an abandoned city building. “I worked with local banks to secure financing, and found support from people who were willing to get down and scrub floors to make it habitable,” says Conway, who is 83.
That first home housed 10 people. Today, the MainSpring Coalition for the Homeless has grown to five homes and sleeps up to 100 people a night, including entire families.
Conway’s fundraising abilities are at the core of the organization’s growth. For the past 22 summers, his company has sponsored a golf tournament that has brought in more than $400,000 and plenty of publicity. The company has also holds an annual dinner and auction, which has raised an additional $600,000.
The funds made it possible for MainSpring to open a new shelter this year and expand its tenancy preservation program, which offers resources to people who are at risk of becoming homeless.
“This past summer we needed to open an emergency shelter,” says Gerald Ryan, interim executive director of MainSpring. “We had no funding from the state, so we had to do this out of the funds from the Conway contributions.”
'What This Really Means'
At the recent dedication ceremony of a new homeless shelter, the importance of MainSpring’s mission really hit home. “Everyone was there, from the Mayor to the local news crews,” says Conway. “The Mayor had just gotten done speaking when he asked if anyone out there would like to say anything.”
To everyone’s surprise, a homeless man raised his hand.
“This guy was bent over with arthritis and hadn’t shaved in months," Conway recalls. "He said, ‘I used to sleep under that bridge. In the winter, I’d find cars that were left open so I could sleep in them. Now, I’ve got a home.’”
That moment “was what having this shelter is all about. All of these big shots were making speeches but it was this homeless man who showed us what this really means.”
Ernest “Chuck” Ayala
GRI, Ayala Real Estate, San Francisco, Calif.
Centro Latino de San Francisco
Good Neighbor Finalist Helps Local Seniors Thrive
Thirty-three years ago Chuck Ayala saw a need among Latino seniors in San Francisco for proper nutrition and a connectedness to the community. As a result, he developed a program to provide lunch to seniors at a local community center or at their homes.
“The next thing you know we got it funded from the San Francisco Commission on Aging and the service grew. We now feed over 2,100 seniors a year and have a community center that supports those seniors,” says Ayala, GRI, broker-owner of Ayala Real Estate in San Francisco.
Centro Latino de San Francisco also offers nutrition programs, transportation, meals for the homebound and bilingual and citizenship assistance. “We help Latino seniors to become U.S. citizens and when they do, we have a huge celebration. They cry [with joy]. It’s wonderful,” says Ayala.
'He's Willing to Give to Everyone'
More than three decades later, Ayala is still a driving force at the center.
“There are so many instances of his kindness,” says Centro Latino’s Executive Director Gloria Bonilla. “He’s helped seniors with legal problems, spends Thanksgivings at the center, serves as a mentor and delivers hot meals to shut ins.” Bonilla has known Ayala for some 27 years and is thankful for his dedication. “He’s always willing to give to everyone,” she says.
Ayala’s advocacy for seniors extends far beyond the Center. He’s served on the California Commission on Aging for the past six years — chairing a transportation subcommittee that discussed disaster preparedness for adults living in long-term care facilities — and was appointed to the White House Conference on Aging by U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi.
Ayala, who’s 82 years old, is president and CEO of Centro Latino's board and is committed to fundraising. “I write proposals to foundations to see if they’ll give us a match for retiring our $338,000 mortgage debt. And, I’m constantly visiting the center to see that there aren’t any problems.”
Door is Open to All Backgrounds
He also helps develop new programs and actively helps organize the Irish-Mexican Cinco de Mayo celebration fundraiser, which was developed in 2000. “We raise about $10,000 [each year] with that event,” he says, noting that the Center also serves many Asians and Russians. "We open our door to all.”
“I wanted seniors to have a place where they can be recognized and be uplifted and have a center [from] where they can grow," says Ayala. "It’s a place where they can better their quality of lives.”
You can contact Ayala at Ayala Real Estate; 532 Castro St., San Francisco, CA 94114; 415/861-0704; email@example.com or Centro Latino de San Francisco at 1656 15th St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 415/861-8790.
Williemae Stanberry, GRI
Stanberry Realty, Pensacola, Fla.
A Will & Way Inc.
Good Neighbor Finalist Helps Women in Prison
Through her own experience of living through an abusive relationship, Williemae Stanberry discovered it is her calling to help troubled women become self-empowered, successful members of society.
Stanberry, GRI, broker-owner of Stanberry Realty in Pensacola, Fla., started off by volunteering every Saturday in the local prison where her husband works as a chaplain. She would visit with incarcerated women, many of whom were victims of violence, to help them prepare for life after they’re released.
“I soon recruited a group of professional ladies and started building classes that teach motivation, self empowerment, and accountability,” Stanberry says. She expanded her efforts by forming a nonprofit organization, A Will & Way Inc., which also offers anger management classes, one-on-one counseling, preparation for job interviews, and donations of professional clothing.
A Transitional Home
To help women who are just released from jail transition into their new lives, Stanberry acquired the Grace Home in 2004, which accommodates up to six people at a time. “When they get out of jail, they stay with us for two weeks to six months to get re-established,” she says. “They have to attend counseling and follow our rules.”
And the rules are strict, she says, telling the story of one young lady who came to stay at the Grace Home in 2004 fresh from jail. The former crack addict “was very strong headed and wouldn’t stick to the rules, so we had to kick her out,” Stanberry says. But the story doesn’t end there.
The young lady, Kim Soto, is now a certified nurse’s assistant (CAN) who thanks Stanberry for getting her through a tough time. “I wanted to prove to her that I could change and that I was going to get my CNA no matter what,” says Soto. “When I got out of jail, my mom wasn’t there (she died while Soto was incarcerated), my kids weren’t there (they were taken from her) and I was all alone. Ms. Stanberry was like a mother to me. She was the only person I had. I gave her a rough time, but she stayed with me.”
Soto is now married, working in a secure job as a nurse’s assistant, and her kids returned to her home last summer.
Mission: Help Women Heal
“That, in essence, is what the program is about — healing women,” says Stanberry. “Helping them go from nothing back to a point of stability where they have self confidence and can restore their family.”
Stanberry’s group relies on donated funds. She sends out a bi-monthly newsletter to businesses, churches, local organizations, and homes asking for donations. She also started an annual banquet that raises about $3,000 per year and a tea event that raises another $3,000 a year for the organization.
The Sonenberg Co., Roswell, Ga.
North Fulton Community Charities
Good Neighbor Finalist Helps Families in Crisis
On top of his busy career as a commercial real estate broker, David Sonenberg volunteers more than 1,000 hours per year for a community organization that prevents homelessness.
Sonenberg, owner of The Sonenberg Co. in Roswell, Ga., was instrumental in creating the North Fulton Community Charities in 1983 to assist families who are experiencing a short-term emergency that could put them out of a home.
Emergencies can range from a lost job or a serious medical problem to domestic violence. NFCC pools the resources of local businesses, churches, schools, and community groups to provide targeted help for those in need.
Sometimes that may mean paying for a child’s health care, helping out with the mortgage and utility bills, or coordinating transportation so a wage-earner can get to work. In addition, NFCC’s food pantry serves an average of 85 families a day. "Whatever it is, we try to help," says Sonenberg, who contributed $35,000 to NFCC last year.
Helps More Than 11,000 People Every Year
The organization has grown vastly in the 23 years since it was founded. Today it spends more than $2 million on help for more than 11,000 people every year. “From the beginning we worked hard to communicate our vision and why our work is important,” Sonenberg says. “The response has been overwhelming. There are a lot of people in our community who want to be good neighbors.”
In 2005, NFCC opened a new headquarters in a renovated, 20,000-square-foot former motorcycle store — a major accomplishment that many people say wouldn’t have happened without Sonenberg’s dedication.
“David has been a tireless worker and a great supporter of whatever our community has needed,” says NFCC Board Member Emeritus Cy Mallard.
Coming to the Aid of Katrina Evacuees
Although he’s closely involved in his own community, Sonenberg’s efforts have extended far beyond the Roswell area. In 2005, NFCC was swamped with requests for help from Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The organization responded quickly and became the focal point for the entire community’s response, eventually aiding more than 375 families.
“We raised special Katrina funds, assisted evacuees with clothing food, shelter, and air fare to reunite families,” he says. “Most importantly, we let them know we cared about them.”
“As REALTORS®, we have an obligation to make our communities better,” says Sonenberg. “I love where I live, where we raised our family, where I work, and I hope that I have helped to make a difference.”
Sonenberg is one of 10 finalists for the Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program recognizing REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, five winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause.
Singletary “Tary” H. Snyder
Texas Lone Star Realty, Dripping Springs, Texas
Good Neighbor Finalist Brings Hope to Storm-Hit Areas
Singletary “Tary” Snyder uses his keen organizational and people skills to arrange disaster response trips throughout his home state of Texas, yet never shies away from the exhausting physical work that’s needed to rebuild communities devastated by storms.
Snyder, broker-owner of Texas Lone Star Realty in Dripping Springs, Texas, has completed 36 mission trips to areas ravaged by storms and flooding. As the disaster-response coordinator for Mission Presbytery — a group of more than 150 local churches that serve the region — he plans the trips and recruits volunteers, working in conjunction with FEMA and Red Cross. On occasion, he also coordinates long-term disaster recovery plans.
“My forte is organizing,” says Snyder. “I look at the big picture and figure out who are the best-qualified people to help. I secure supplies, plan the logistics, and make sure we have the tools we need.”
Although he makes his money in the real estate business, Snyder believes that helping others is his life’s calling. “I sell real estate to support my disaster-relief habit,” he jokes.
Dedication Began in 1998
Since 1998 when he became devoted to disaster relief, Snyder has rallied some 575 volunteers to participate in 35 missions in Texas, plus one last year to a community in Louisiana that was torn apart by Hurricane Rita.
In 2005 he also helped to form the Texas Interfaith Disaster Response organization, through which he led 200 volunteers to help more than 5,500 Hurricane Katrina evacuees to relocate in Austin.
“Tary coordinates money, supplies, and people-power for what have been fairly small-scale disasters in our area,” says Sylvia Washer, executive presbyter of Mission Presbytery. “But in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Tary stepped onto the stage of disaster assistance in a whole new way.”
Order Out of Chaos
What drives Snyder to volunteer with such enthusiasm? It’s seeing the difference that rebuilding makes to families and neighborhoods that are set back by bad storms.
In one recent trip, his team fixed up an elderly woman’s home with new siding and a wheelchair ramp. In another instance, he helped a family get its house back in order after it was damaged by flooding.
“The family enjoyed our help so much that they asked us back for a barbecue the following year,” he says. “It makes you feel great that you’re able to bring some hope out of the chaos that people have been through.”
Snyder is one of 10 finalists for the Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program recognizing REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, five winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause.
You can contact Snyder at Texas Lone Star Realty, 1015 North Sunset Canyon Dr., Dripping Springs, TX 78620; 512/892-6800; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Neighbor Finalist is 'Mom' to Sudanese Refugees
On any given evening, dozens of people may stop by Jill Rich’s home for a home-cooked dinner. But Rich isn’t fazed by the demands of whipping up an impromptu meal for herds of hungry guests. In fact, she looks forward to it.
That’s because the guests are like her sons. They are Sudanese refugees — referred to in the media as “The Lost Boys of Sudan” — who Rich helps to adapt to life in the United States. “There have been many evenings when 30 or 40 of the Lost Boys drop by unannounced at dinner time,” says Rich, ABR®, CRS®, of Realty Executives Southern Arizona. “Somehow, I’ve become like a mom to them.”
Rich feels so passionately about helping the young men that in 2002 she started the Sudanese Promise Fund, based in Tucson, Ariz. The nonprofit group is devoted to helping the men lead productive lives in the United States.
Long Road to Tucson
Thousands of Lost Boys fled their country amid a violent civil war after being separated from their family members, many of whom were murdered or forced into slavery. After grueling years of wandering the desert on foot, they sought refuge at a camp in Kenya and then were brought to the United States in 2001 with the permission of the U.S. government. About 60 of them settled in Tucson.
“Many of the Lost Boys believe it was divine intervention that brought them to the United States,” Rich says. “Most of their friends died before making it here.”
The young men, who grew up in tribal communities, needed help adapting to American life. “They had no knowledge of technology,” Rich says. “They didn’t know how to use a refrigerator. They’d go into a grocery store and wouldn't know what was food and what wasn’t.”
Rich helped them find housing, get jobs, finish high school, attend and pay for college, and get medical and dental care. Many of them even lived with Rich while they settled into their new lives. Her motherly guidance and love earned her the nickname “Mama Jill.”
“Mama Jill is a very kind, loving human being,” says John Thom Majok, a Sudanese refugee who has earned his GED and graduated from the University of Arizona in 2005. He's now working for a Washington, D.C.-based program that helps his fellow countrymen.
“When I was looking for a car, I asked, ‘Where do I buy a car? How do I do it?,’” Majok says. “She dropped everything and took me to a dealer. She helped me get a good deal.”
History of Volunteerism
For Rich, dedicated volunteerism is a part of life. She was a 2000 recipient of the Good Neighbor Award for unrelated volunteer work she did for the American Red Cross.
She’s now devoted to raising money for the Sudanese Promise Fund and helping the men succeed. “My husband teases me because I say every one of them is my favorite,” she says.
You can contact Rich at Realty Executives Southern Arizona, 1745 E. River Road, Ste. 245, Tucson, AZ 85718; 520/615-8100; email@example.com or The Sudanese Promise Fund, 7735 N. Sendero de Juana, Tucson, AZ 85718
Love Realty, Albuquerque, N.M.
African American Cultural Association
Good Neighbor Finalist Helps Kids Unlock Hidden Talents
When kids act up, get bad grades, or experiment with drugs, they’re often on the fast track to dropping out of high school or landing in big trouble with police. But if someone can help these troubled kids find their true passion and improve their life outlook, there’s no telling what their future may hold.
That’s the philosophy that drives Lovie McGee, broker-owner of Love Realty, Albuquerque, N.M., and founder of the African American Cultural Association, a mentoring and tutoring program that changes the lives of teens like Simon Wils.
“I was a bad kid and got into lots of trouble back in grade school,” says Wils, who was failing his classes when he got involved with McGee's association. The program helped him turn his grades around and unlock his talent for making music.
“Sometimes, you can’t just open a book to reach a child,” says McGee. “Focusing on their interests breaks the ice and helps them find the road to recovery.”
Cultural Group Broadens Goals
McGee founded the African American Cultural Association in 1984 as a cultural awareness group for kids at Albuquerque’s Kirtland Air Force Base. She broadened the reach of the organization in 2004 when she developed the Community Academic Initiative Resource Center, which brings together volunteer tutors and mentors with students at risk of dropping out of the Albuquerque Public Schools system.
Volunteers help children unearth their passion, whether that may be fishing, hiking, pottery, or music.
Wils found his talent with the help of McGee’s two sons, JaRon and John, who own a music studio. Once they learned of Wils’s interest in rap and hip-hop, and they showed him how to make and record music. Now he has a direction in school and in life.
“Those people showed me so much love and acceptance,” says Wils. “They also made clear the link between a music career and performing in school.” Today, Wils is a polite, articulate high school sophomore. “I’m trying to stay on top of stuff and stay focused in school.”
Helping Kids Is Her Calling
McGee says helping kids like Wils is her calling. “No one can tell me these kids are lost causes,” she says. “All they need is someone to love them. If we could have that, what a beautiful world it would be.”
The Good Neighbor Awards is supported by founding sponsor eNeighborhoods Inc., and cosponsors Fannie Mae and LandAmerica.