It's common knowledge: Real estate agents and Realtors® help change lives by helping people find the home of their dreams. But plenty are also doing additional work to better the communities around them.
When Michelle Gordon, CRS ABR, Broker Owner of Great Properties BY, found out Girl Scouts have to pay for the Girl Scout cookies they sell upfront, she knew she had to take action.
"I am in the higher risk category, so when COVID-19 'happened,' I felt there wasn't a lot I could do to help," said Gordon, thinking first of how to lend a hand through food—a passion of hers. "I found out that the Girl Scouts have to buy their boxes of cookies upfront and hope they sell them all. Well, the Stay Home, Stay Safe order happened right as their season began. I found a troop that could use my help, bought out their cookies and delivered them to Metro Health in Wyoming."
Though Gordon felt this gesture was a small one, her contact at Metro Health said it made the staff smile.
"As a Realtor®, it's our job to serve the community, not just in sales, but in taking care of the people we serve," said Gordon, adding that she's addicted to the feeling of knowing you made a difference. "As a human, a community member, a mom, a wife, a person of faith—it's what we are supposed to do."
Twala Lockett-Jones, Broker/Owner, Lockett-Jones Realty Group, landlord, real estate investor, flipper, and soon-to-be Michigan licensed builder, is passionate about helping people in underserved communities realize the American dream of homeownership. Lockett-Jones, the second African-American woman to own an independent brokerage in Kalamazoo, and her husband, Kenneth, own 40 rental units in Kalamazoo, where they house over 100 people.
"Many of our tenants come to us with less than stellar credit, past evictions and low income," said Lockett-Jones, who helps tenants rebuild their lives by offering them financial literacy, budgeting, credit building and repair, and other resources to build self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-esteem. "We pride ourselves on being second- and third-chance landlords. We understand that people make mistakes and everyone deserves another chance."
Lockett-Jones is committed to educating people, especially people of color, about the importance of owning real estate.
"It's impossible to address poverty and the wealth gap in America in the absence of addressing the housing gap in America," she said, offering several statistics that inform her work. "Seventy-three percent of white people are homeowners versus 41% of Black people; Black homeownership rates continue to decline each year from a high of 49% in 2004 to 41% in 2019; minorities disproportionately lost their homes to foreclosure during the housing collapse due to predatory lending practices; and red-lining, discrimination, and other systemic policies and practices still play a significant role in housing disparities and access."
Photo courtesy of Twala Lockett-Jones.
In August 2019, Lockett-Jones purchased a large fixer-upper historic home on the Northside of Kalamazoo, considered by many to be one of the least desirable neighborhoods in the city.
"I had a vision to restore this beautiful historic home to include four units of much needed affordable housing, a small community tea house, and a Girls Build Kalamazoo construction trades program to introduce the trades to middle and high school girls on the Northside of Kalamazoo," said Lockett-Jones. "On June 2, 2020, that vision was eradicated as I watched the home go up in flames as a result of arson during the rioting in Kalamazoo."
Photo courtesy of Twala Lockett-Jones.
Despite this tragedy, Lockett-Jones remains positive and plans to rebuild.
"The devastation and heartbreak behind this loss may never be understood by many," said Lockett-Jones. "But the community that knew what it was to be came out in numbers to offer condolences, encouragement and support of this dream."
Lockett-Jones is confident that nothing, not even arson, will deter her dream.
"My service in this lifetime is bigger than selling real estate and providing housing—I long to see revitalized neighborhoods and increased homeownership in underserved populations and communities," said Lockett-Jones, who has come up with a 40/40/40 challenge for herself. "The goal is to help 40 families of color under 40 years old become homeowners within 40 months!"
Julie Reisner, Realtor®, Five Star Real Estate Leaders, converted two "Little Library" boxes in her town of Schoolcraft into food pantries for those who needed it. They were able to grab and go without having to connect with anyone.
Photo courtesy of Julie Reisner.
"I filled them with nonperishables like peanut butter, jelly, mac 'n' cheese, noodles and sauce, gift cards, and more—whatever I could get my hands on at the time," said Reisner, who has also been making masks and only asking for a donation in return, which is used toward purchasing more food and helping families struggling with all the changes. "I was able to help two families by purchasing laptops for them because they didn't have the technology their families required for homeschooling. I was also able to make donations to several charities and local businesses during a time they were struggling because of the COVID shutdown."
Resiner knows frontline workers all over the world, so each mask pickup included a note that highlighted the name of a frontline worker.
"I just asked people to do their part and stop the spread," said Reisner, who has been in food lines before and knows it can be embarrassing and hard to do. "I also asked for them to pray or think of the frontline workers, as most of us were staying at home—myself included."
If someone couldn't afford a mask, Reisner told them it was all right and to pay it forward in the future when things turn around.
"Every day I work hard to make the world a little better for others including my family," said Reisner. "I can only hope that I will be blessed to continue to do this and make an impact on someone else to then do the same."
Laura Ensley, Associate Broker, Ensley Team, Five Star Real Estate Cedar Springs, decided to start a similar concept in the form of a giving table in front of her office to offer free food and supplies for those in need to pick up items confidentially.
"One thing that I remembered so vividly is the time when I was helping organize and restock food," said Ensley. "There was a family of four kneeling in front of the table and praying for the community and the need in our area. The mom thanked me up and down and said they would continue to pray for this table."
The table continued to grow so immensely, City Impact agreed to take over operation of the table to ensure even more families could access the food and supplies they needed.
"I love to help and make a difference," said Ensley.
Courtesy of Gordon Group.