Rick Harris

© Photo courtesy of Rick Harris

An Arc of Support

REALTOR® Rick Harris uses his real estate expertise to empower children and adults with developmental disabilities.

August 30, 2018

Richard L. Harris

Steve Angel, 48, is a ticket taker at an AMC movie theater who lives in a group home for people with Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare disorder that causes delayed development and eating disorders. He credits The Arc Tampa Bay for his job and his happiness. “They help me learn how to live on my own,” he says. “I like all my teachers and all my friends.”

REALTOR® Rick Harris, broker-owner of Richard Harris & Associates and commercial appraiser in Palm Harbor, Fla., helps make it possible for Angel and others with developmental disabilities to experience full lives. Harris serves as volunteer president of The Arc TB, a $12 million nonprofit that runs housing and educational programming for about 275 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.          

The Arc TB runs 18 group homes and a 22-unit apartment complex that together house more than 150 people. These facilities require remodeling, renting, and sometimes buying and selling, which is made easier with Harris’s real estate expertise. He has helped The Arc increase its revenue by $250,000 a year.      

“He most certainly has put his real estate knowledge to good use,” says Steve Heller, a past president of The Arc TB. “He really just puts his heart and soul into trying to do good for our organization and for people who can’t help themselves.”          

Harris understands the importance of these programs firsthand because his oldest son, David, 37, was born with Down syndrome and lives with five other adults, including Angel, in an Arc group home. “I believe Rick sees all the people we serve here as kind of an extension of his child,” says Madison Orr Hauenstein, executive director of The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation, which raises money for The Arc TB. “He’s been so successful and passionate about implementing great change here because it’s so personal to him. It’s great that Rick has allowed his passion for his son to spill over.”      

Fostering Independence

The Arc TB runs an art studio, classes such as drumming and cooking, and a work center with assembly lines. “We’re trying to make it so they reach the highest level of independence,” says Polly Stannard, president of The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation. “Managing and making sound decisions for all these facilities, Rick has truly leant his training and his talents to better our organization.”

Harris also thinks about the big picture. “Oftentimes with a nonprofit, you’re inundated with your day-to-day operations, and you may not be thinking about this global perspective and bringing some business expertise into the mix,” says Hauenstein. “His insight into the markets and the value of the properties we’re going to invest these nonprofit dollars into have led us to make wise decisions.” 

“[Our clients] are special. They have unique talents that a lot of people don’t recognize. One of the artists has autism, can barely speak, but has such talent in expressing himself through art.” –Rick Harris       

At the art studio, Michael Minieri, 56, who was born deaf and has intellectual challenges, wields a paint brush and colored pencils to create artwork for an annual art show, where some artists sell paintings for as much as $1,400. Without The Arc, “he would have been drawing randomly,” says Carl Minieri, his father, whose two sons live at The Arc TB. “They do a great job of watching over [them] and giving [them] a great quality of life.”    

More than 100 people have found work through The Arc TB’s Supported Employment Program and Work Center, where they may assemble hangers, for example. And about 30 people work for local businesses like the movie theater. “Every one of the 250-plus people we serve is different, but all should be valued in our community,” says Sheldon Hershman, executive director of The Arc TB, who also notes that Harris has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to upgrade their properties.

Building Better Lives

Greg Stock is a past president of The Arc TB and the father of Danny Stock, 37, who was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that causes problems such as seizures. At precise times, Arc-trained staff administer medications to Danny. “They have a tremendous program for avoiding drug errors,” says Stock.

Because Danny moved into an Arc group home 13 years ago, his father has been able to do community service work and go on church mission trips abroad. “It freed us up to do our community service and our occupations and live more normal lives, and it freed Danny up to be more of an independent person,” Stock says. “When we die, Danny is going to at least be comfortable in his routine there.” 

An ongoing challenge for Stock, Harris, and other board members is balancing the budget, especially when state and federal funds are shrinking. “Costs to operate are increasing faster than funding,” says Harris. And yet they also want to pay their employees fair wages. During Harris’s service as president, The Arc increased compensation for direct-care staff from an average of around $9 an hour to more than $10 an hour. To make this happen, Harris advocated for additional funds from The Arc TB Foundation and added a grant writer to find funds for capital improvement projects.

Harris also took on long-range planning and created a wish list for each property. One goal, which he received a grant to pay for, is to use solar energy to save money. (The annual electric bill for The Arc TB is $130,000.) “With every good idea, you have to have a plan to execute it,” says Harris. “I really feel my experience in real estate and leadership has benefited our organization and brought it to a higher level where we can afford to help [more people].”

As his term as president ends this fall, Harris remains committed to helping the people at The Arc TB live their most productive and joyful lives. “These are the less fortunate who people think have nothing to contribute to society. But they do. You just have to find that talent and bring it out.”

Contact Rick Harris at rharris@rharealestate.com. Learn more about The Arc Tampa Bay at thearctb.org.

Karen Springen

Karen Springen is a Chicago-area freelance writer and faculty member at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.