A Place Where Terror Won't Win

It's hard to have hope in a world where senseless attacks like those in Paris cripple us with fear. But if you're lucky, you'll still find the kindest of people out there who show you that the one place where love has the capacity to always conquer hate is the human heart. Those people are REALTOR® Magazine's Good Neighbors.

November 18, 2015

The weather was like paradise in sunny San Diego for the 2015 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, but I spent most of the weekend with a cloud hanging over my head. Many others probably did, too.

On Friday, the opening day of the conference, news broke of the terror attacks in Paris. I saw the first headline that afternoon, when it was being reported that more than 100 people were killed around the city. I was busy at the time, covering the conference’s education sessions. “That’s awful,” I thought to myself. And then I moved on.

But the news kept getting worse throughout the day, and when I got back to my hotel room that night, the weight of Paris’ pain was heavy on my heart. I told myself what I always do when bad things happen in life: The world is a messed-up place, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I admit that I tend to take a pessimistic view of the world. It’s not that I’ve decided there’s no good out there; it just doesn’t seem to make itself as readily apparent as the bad stuff. Even when I tried to refocus on my work for the rest of the conference, it was a half-hearted effort. After seeing how quickly life can end for us all, what does any of it matter anyway?

But by the end of the conference, I came to know this: If you don’t know why it — life — matters, you’ve probably never touched someone else in the deepest, most meaningful way possible. To help them strive for and realize their own greatness because it makes our world a better place when they do. I haven’t, and that’s something I wish I could say differently. I can change that in the future, and I have — we all have — amazing mentors who can guide the way: REALTOR® Magazine’s Good Neighbors.

The day after Paris was besieged, the gala honoring the 2015 Good Neighbor Award winners was held in San Diego. It came at a time when we all needed a reminder that there are good people in the world who can never be thrown off their mission to serve others, even when hate seems to be around every corner.

What I saw in this year’s winners, five extraordinary REALTORS® who each won $10,000 toward the community projects they’ve built from the ground up, was true selflessness. They came onstage to accept their awards in the names of those they serve. They were more interested in talking about the people they help than themselves, and they each already had someone in mind who would benefit from their prize money.

I want to strive to be more like these heroes.

Like Nancy Hines, who founded Ovar’coming Together Inc. to fund ovarian cancer research and bring survivors together for support and community. “They’re laughing together, they go to lunch together,” Hines said of the women helped by her organization. “They’re blessed to have each other to talk to — to survive together.” She said her grant money will support programs that have branched out from Ovar’coming Together, such as one 26-year-old survivor’s YOLO Club (You Only Live Once). The club provides bonding adventures such as zip lining, rock climbing, and “polar bear plunges” for cancer survivors.

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Like John Kersten, who has raised more than $15 million in total for Easter Seals to support occupational therapy for children with disabilities. He recalled a young girl named “Punky,” who was born with cerebral palsy and depended on a wheelchair. Kersten’s fundraising paid for physical therapy for Punky, who plays on an Easter Seals baseball team. Now her life is very different. “Last year, at the age of 10, she was able to walk to first base for the first time,” he said. Next, Kersten will develop a program for early childhood screening for developmental delays.

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Like Barbara Mills, who started Operation Welcome Home to honor returning war veterans. She’s raised $200,000 to send care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and throw parties for them when they come back home. “Imagine you’re 7,741 miles away from home, and it’s Christmas,” she said. “For many young soldiers, it’s their first Christmas away from home.” Mills already has plans to send over another batch of rum cakes, her most in-demand item. “Sometimes it’s the little things in life that can mean so much,” she said.

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Like Dan Goodwin, who founded New Directions Housing Corp. to provide affordable housing to low-income families in Chicago’s inner city. Goodwin used to be a teacher and would see children “coming to school tired and without their homework done because they had inadequate housing, with no place to do their homework and people coming in and out all night,” he said. New Directions “treats the whole person, not just the housing problem” by putting families in better neighborhoods with better schools, Goodwin said. Children who otherwise would have fallen under the radar are now graduating high school and going to college. He plans to use his grant money to buy coats and school supplies for the kids who live in his buildings.

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Like Susan Stearns, who has volunteered for decades with New Horizons, a nonprofit that provides group-home and independent living support for adults with intellectual disabilities. “They come into this world just needing a little more help,” Stearns said. She helps not only people with disabilities but their families see that they have a bright future. A woman named Stephanie will be helped directly by Stearns’ grant money. The cash will support a new home for people with Down syndrome who develop early Alzheimer’s disease, and Stephanie will be the first resident.

The 2015 Good Neighbors have shown me that whatever darkness there is in the world, there is also light. And as it has been said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”

So I’m going to be a good neighbor, too, and do something nice for someone else. I’ll be a little bit of that light that drives the darkness out. It may not be on the level these fine REALTORS® have attained, but it’ll be something I can be proud of. Will you join me?

Graham Wood
Senior editor

Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@realtors.org.

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