Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
After being presented to around 4,500 real estate professionals from all over the world at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo’s General Session, the 2012 Good Neighbor Award winners officially accepted their awards at a dinner held in their honor at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Fla.
REALTOR® Magazine’s Good Neighbor Awards—now in their 13th year—recognizes REALTORS® who have made an impact on their communities through volunteer work. Former National Association of REALTORS® President Martin Edwards reflected on the inauspicious beginnings of the Good Neighbor Society, which has now expanded to include 125 charities and 65 winners.
"When this idea came up, it did not have what we call 'traction,'" Edwards told the audience. "I said, 'You know what? This is a hell of a good idea, and it is a way to introduce the REALTOR® family to America.’"
In accepting his award, Good Neighbor Rocky Balsamo talked about how his Center for FaithJustice strives to create “even more good neighbors” by promoting volunteerism among teens and young adults.
“You are investing in the future,” he said. “This can bring about meaningful change in the world.”
Each winner received a $10,000 grant and a $2,000 gift card from sponsor Lowe's. With the money, Balsamo plans to expand his program to Washington, D.C. and Chicago in 2014.
Michael Campbell told his fellow award winners that their work is in the same vein as his advocacy for the Hearth Foundation, which provides transitional housing for low-income families.
“We all share a common thread, a common quest,” he said. “Nothing is accomplished by one individual.”
Campbell said he plans to use the award funds to buy security lighting and window coverings for the Hearth Foundation homes.
Ginger Dowdle told attendees how creating The Shepherd’s Watch Ministries with her husband fulfilled a decade-long dream to reach out to at-risk kids through a Christian camp.
“We try and have a daily impact on their lives,” she said. “We teach them how to cook, how to do their homework.”
She said they will use the funds provided by the award to buy new appliances and provide more rental assistance for young adults who have aged out of foster care and into homelessness.
“Once they turn 18, they are on their own,” she said. “What a terrible birthday present.”
Trudy Harsh told the stories of three of the 24 tenants in Laura’s Houses, which provide affordable housing for mentally ill adults who might otherwise be homeless. She also talked about some who have moved on to self-sufficiency in their own apartments and about her desire to see similar programs around the country.
“In the United States we have a terrible shortage of housing for the mentally ill,” she said. “There is certainly a need for mental health housing in every community.”
Harsh said she plans to use the funds for rental assistance, repairs and appliances at each of the Laura’s Houses.
“We’ve just closed on our seventh house, and it needs a new refrigerator,” she said.
Some ten years ago, Good Neighbor Sally Rudloff was diagnosed with acute myeloid-leukemia and given two weeks to live. She received a bone marrow transplant and told the audience that after that ordeal, building the new Boys & Girls Club was easy.
“I see every day how much difference it makes in a kid’s life to have someone who cares about them,” she said. Even though building the new facility in economically depressed Alameda, Calif. during a recession presented unique problems, she was determined to “build a facility to show how much we care.”
She plans to use the grant money to create a partnership with Robert Ballard’s Jason Project, a non-profit that motivates teens to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, and to create a community garden and kitchen program to help entire families eat more healthily.
Senior Vice President of Consumer Relations and former REALTOR® Magazine Publisher Frank Sibley thanked previous winners for coming to support the 2012 winners. Little did he know, he was about to be inducted into the Good Neighbor Society himself.
NAR Senior Vice President of Communications Pamela Kabati took the mic to announce the surprise bestowal of honorary Good Neighbor status to Sibley, who will be retiring in 2013.
"You are an inspiration to everyone you touch,” she said, noting Sibley’s work to open a library in a juvenile detention center, as a deacon and elder in his church, as a board member on childhood literacy organization Reading Power, and more. "He has been a selfless advocate.”
Sibley accepted the award, saying that the Good Neighbors themselves inspire his service.
"When I read your stories, I am one of the people you have influenced,” he said. “I am simply a reflection of the sun or the light that you have shone on your communities.”