Jean King no longer has to watch her her step while cooking because of a rotted kitchen floor, soaked through years ago by a water leak from her sink. Nor does she have to leave a window open almost year round to keep the room from smelling like mold.
In one weekend, a team of volunteers from Christmas in Action-Spartanburg, a nonprofit group founded by Keller Williams real estate agent Cindy Barrett and her husband, John, replaced King’s kitchen and laundry room floors.
Christmas in Action didn’t stop there. The organization, which repairs homes for the poor, elderly, and disabled in Spartanburg, S.C., also painted the King's siding, added insulation, built railings on the back steps, and put new electrical wiring and outlets in the entire house.
"It's hard when you live week-to-week," Jean says. "You don't have the money to do what needs to be done."
I can lay down and go to sleep at night with the peace of knowing I have a safe home.Jean King, homeowner
Giving Back Where They Do Business
Christmas In Action-Spartanburg is one of nearly 200 nonprofits recognized by the National Association of REALTORS® in the last 20 years through its Good Neighbor Awards. (Full disclosure, NAR produces HouseLogic.com.) Each year, NAR gives the award to five REALTORS® who have made an extraordinary contribution to their community, the country, or the world, through volunteer work. NAR also makes a monetary donation to the practitioner’s charity.
All at no charge to King, 62, who has diabetes and can no longer work, and her husband, Carrol, 72, who works two days a week doing odd jobs at the town dump.
Given their unique insight into the community they live and work in, it’s perhaps not surprising that 70% of REALTORS® say they volunteer in their communities each month, according to an NAR survey. Good Neighbor charities have invested more than 60,000 volunteer hours a year into their communities.
Keeping Folks Housed -- And Hopeful
Cindy Barrett won a Good Neighbor aware in 2016. Barrett founded the Spartanburg chapter of the Texas-based Christmas in Action (CIA) group in 1996 after she helped her church repair a local man’s dilapidated home.
"I couldn't believe that less than a mile from where I lived was someone who didn't have indoor plumbing or running water," Barrett says. "I was shocked we had so much poverty in America. I had to do something about it."
More than two decades later, CIA-Spartanburg has helped more than 900 families make vital home repairs. The group works with families and elderly people who live at or below the national poverty level and would not be able to stay in their homes safely unless the dwellings were repaired.
"We give them a better place to live, but we also give them hope, something a lot of these people have a short supply of," Barrett says. “It's all about loving your neighbor."
Reconnecting Veterans to Their Community
Jack Persin, an agent in Naperville, Il., earned an honorable mention in the 2016 Good Neighbor Awards for Naperville Responds For Veterans (NRFV), a nonprofit he co-founded in 2009 to repair homes and install wheelchair ramps for low- and moderate-income veterans.
NRFV has helped more than 200 veterans and their families, like Pat Wilson Stryszak and her husband, Ed, of Burr Ridge, Il.
The Stryszaks care for elderly veterans in their home. Right now, the couple shares their place with Army veteran Mario Tonelli, 84, and Air Force veteran Bob Galvin, 87. Pat feeds them, helps them bathe, and drives them to medical appointments and bingo games.
"They stay with us as long as they need to," she says. “They are part of our family."
The Stryszaks have lived with nine veterans since becoming a Veterans Administration-approved medical foster home in 2012, with Pat giving round-the-clock care to veterans who can’t afford a nursing home. Six of the vets have died with her by their side.
“I sit in their room and pray with them," Pat says. “I hear a lot of their stories. I hear about their pets, their second grade teacher, their wives, their kids, their fears, their memories."
NRFV built a wheelchair ramp at the Stryszaks' house, and remodeled a bathroom to make it wheelchair accessible, giving the Stryszaks room to take in a third veteran. “They went above and beyond," Pat says. "We'll be able to help another vet, thanks to Jack [Persin]."
The people served by programs like CIA and NRFV get more than a better home. They also get reconnected to their community.
"The people we help are older. They get overlooked," Barrett says. "When they realize there are people who don't know them but will come help them, it brings them together with their neighbors and their town."
Jean King says she'll never get over how hard a group of strangers worked for her and Carrol.
"Those volunteers painted outside between rainstorms on a weekend," Jean King says. “It makes you feel good to know there are people in the world who would do that, so that I can lay down and go to sleep at night with the peace of knowing I have a safe home."