Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.
Restoring Health and Hope for Kids
2017 Good Neighbor Award Winner Howard “Hoddy” Hanna uses his passion for giving back to fuel a multimillion-dollar philanthropic effort.
August 30, 2017
When 6-year-old Matisse Reid came to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh from New Zealand for specialized gastric treatment five years ago, her parents faced a host of uncertainties from the cost of her medical care to where they could afford to stay during her treatment. Their daughter’s genetic disorder, called chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo obstruction, was rare and outside the expertise of most hospitals around the world. So the Reids had to uproot their lives and move overseas to a city where they knew no one.
Luckily, they found Family House, a home away from home for out-of-towners whose loved ones are getting treatment at the hospital. The Reid family lived in the renovated 39-room Pittsburgh mansion free of charge for more than a year thanks to the foresight of REALTOR® Howard W. “Hoddy” Hanna III, chairman of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, the third-largest residential real estate brokerage in the United States. Through his largesse, all of Matisse’s out-of-pocket treatment costs were covered for the family as well.
Hanna was the founding chairman of Family House, which opened in 1983 in response to a surge in families coming to Pittsburgh to take advantage of the city’s world-class children’s hospitals. He personally oversaw the deal to purchase and upgrade the property near the hospital.
“When the Reids came to Family House, [Matisse] was probably at death’s door. She couldn’t take solids. She was losing weight,” Hannah said. “But her life improved dramatically because of the surgery they did here.”
Family House has expanded to four properties around the city. It’s just one part of Hanna’s wide-ranging philanthropic effort. Since taking over Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in 1980 from his father, who founded the company in 1957, Hanna has created a charity operation in which millions of dollars each year are donated to some 500 local and national causes. Donations come from Hanna personally, other members of his family, the real estate company, and hundreds of fundraisers Howard Hanna offices around the country hold each year.
“Hanna is not just a name on a sign,” says Colleen O’Brien, a longtime friend of Hanna’s and former president of a nonprofit he created called the Children’s Free Care Fund Foundation. Started in 1988, the foundation pays bills for families who can’t afford hospital care for their children. “Philanthropy is an essential part of who he is.”
Early Focus on Charity
Hanna says he was taught early on by his mother to give back and has always made charitable giving a part of his professional and personal life. “Whether you’re giving your treasure or your time, you always want to help those who are less fortunate than you have a better quality of life,” he says. “My mother instilled that in me, and I still try to live that every day of my life.”
“Hoddy provided support for a healing garden at our hospital, a space where children, their families, and staff can go when they just need to get out. Doctors and nurses have tough days, too, and not every story at our hospital is a happy ending. In so many ways, that garden is a manifestation of Hoddy’s care for people. He’s made a space to provide comfort to people, and I see that every day I come to the hospital.” —Greg Barrett, president, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation
The centerpiece of his philanthropic effort is a fundraising drive he launched in 1988 to give his company’s agents a chance to be part of something bigger than their business. Each year, his company’s 9,000 agents in almost 300 offices in eight states compete to raise the most money for children’s hospitals by holding luncheons, dinners, and other events. “We might have 9,000 people in our company, but we still run it as a family business,” he says. “We think giving back to the community is a very important part of our family.”
More than $14 million has been raised by his fundraising competition over the last 30 years, and last year alone, his agents raised more than $1 million. All of the money goes into the Children’s Free Care Fund, which passes the money along to about a dozen children’s hospitals in markets where Howard Hanna offices are located.
Hanna says children’s hospitals have an especially pressing need because insurance companies don’t reimburse pediatric care at the same rate as adult care. “We don’t want any [child] to be turned down because of money,” he says. The bulk of the foundation’s money covers this uncompensated care. The rest goes to needs specified by the hospitals.
Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, for example, uses the money for its palliative wing, which cares for children who are not expected to recover from their illness. “It’s about making the children comfortable in their last months,” says Michelle DeGulis, vice president and manager of the 70-agent Howard Hanna Real Estate Services office in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, about 25 miles outside of Cleveland. DeGulis’ office—one of the foundation’s leading contributors—hosts an annual gala called Taste in the Chagrin Valley that brings in chefs to cook specialty dishes for about 400 people. “It’s become the must-attend event,” DeGulis says. “We have people asking us months before the event about the date so they can make sure they get it on their calendar.”
‘You Can’t Help but Be Inspired’
Last year’s event netted $41,000, which contributed to the total $350,000 given to Cleveland-area hospitals by Howard Hanna offices. “When you hear the stories of what the hospitals are doing for children, you can’t help but be inspired,” says DeGulis, who participated in a ceremony last year to present the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital with a check for more than $100,000.
DeGulis says Hanna has inspired her office’s fundraising success. “We see how passionate Hoddy is about helping these kids, and it just makes you want to do whatever you can to help,” she says.
Greg Barrett, president of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, has worked with Hanna for years and agrees that people go the extra mile for him. “Hoddy’s commitment to the greater good is simply part of who he is,” Barrett says. “With a big personality and an open-handedness that is disarming, Hoddy makes every single person he encounters feel like the most important person in the room. He literally activates tens of thousands of people,” Barrett continues. “When you think about all of the sales associates and brokers—and then all of the people who come to their events—he really creates a movement for children that is so, so important to what we do.”
Hanna says it’s the least he can do for the country’s most important asset: its children. “A miracle happens every day at these hospitals,” he says. “Giving back to the community is a very important part of our business and why I love being a REALTOR®.”