‘REALTORS give back’ focuses on local associations’ holiday charity stories

Illinois REALTORS® is looking for stories about how your organization is making the holiday season brighter for others. As we do each year, we need your stories about food drives or other holiday outreach efforts.

Help us show how REALTORS® make a difference in their communities!

Send information to Bill Kozar at bkozar@illinoisrealtors.org. Please provide the full names of members in your photos. Remember to get parents’ written permission before taking photos of minors.

Illinois REALTORS® donates $25K to help Puerto Rico hurricane recovery efforts

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Illinois REALTORS® is contributing $25,000 to the NAR REALTORS® Relief Foundation to assist Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico.

The Executive Committee and the Board of Directors made the decision during its October Business Meetings last week. This is the third sizeable donation the 47,000-member Illinois REALTORS® has made in the last two months to help American hurricane victims. In September, a $50,000 donation was made to the Texas Association of REALTORS® to help Hurricane Harvey victims and a $50,000 donation was made to the Florida Association of REALTORS® to help Hurricane Irma victims.

Illinois REALTORS® has donated nearly $1 million since 1997 to help victims of disasters in and outside of Illinois.

In addition to responding to the hurricanes, Illinois REALTORS® is in the middle of an effort to help those affected by severe flooding this summer in Northern Illinois. The association, through its non-profit Illinois REALTORS® Relief Foundation, has distributed nearly $30,000 for flood victims. Illinois REALTORS®’ disaster relief foundation also partners with NAR’s REALTORS® Relief Foundation to get more money to Illinois disaster victims.

To learn more about Illinois REALTORS® Relief Foundation (IRRF) or obtain information about assistance for victims of Northern Illinois flooding, visit the IRRF web site.

Hurricane update: ‘Everyone in Puerto Rico has been affected in some way’

Greater Antilles political map. Caribbean islands. Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, Turks And Caicos Islands. Illustration. English labeling. (Bigstock Images)

The Puerto Rican real estate community will help deliver emergency supplies to victims of Hurricane Maria after most of the 3 million inhabitants have lost access to electricity, clean water and adequate shelter, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Association of REALTORS® told REALTOR® Magazine.

In an online story today, “Worse Than Anything You’ve Seen on TV,” Marcos Vilar says the entire nation is in ruin and the government is distributing generators and diesel fuel to residents, in hopes of providing electricity. “It’s literally like the whole island was bombed,” he said. “Homes that were reinforced with concrete were snapped in two like toothpicks.”

Read more from his interview.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, governs itself. Its capital is San Juan.

Puerto Rico flag (Bigstock Image)

In other related news:

REALTORS® travel to Texas to help hurricane victims in Houston area

REALTORS® Josh Weinberg (left) and Tommy Choi paused to take a photo during a break in hurricane cleanup last week in Katy, Texas.

“You walked inside a home and the smell of mold just hit you,” said Illinois REALTOR® Tommy Choi as he described his volunteer work near Houston last week.

A co-owner of Keller Williams Chicago — Lincoln Park, Choi joined thousands of Keller Williams real estate professionals who provided relief efforts to areas devastated by the torrential rains of Hurricane Harvey. “It was a very sobering feeling knowing the extent of the devastation.”

Choi was originally scheduled to attend the annual Keller Williams conference in Austin, but after the hurricane had such devastating effects, company leaders reorganized the event into a relief effort. Choi and his fellow volunteers jumped on busses at 7:30 a.m. every morning and rode two hours to the Houston area, then worked until 6 p.m. when the busses picked them up for return trips to their hotel. Volunteers worked in groups of 15, “de-mucking” homes flooded by as much as six feet of water.

In one home, volunteers were already working inside when the owners returned to see the devastation the flood waters had caused in their absence.  “It was an emotional day for them,” said Choi, who discovered a dead catfish on the kitchen floor. “Everything they owned was gone.”

Out to the curb they carried furniture, appliances and belongings destroyed by the water. They ripped up carpeting, tore out ruined flooring, and removed plasterboard and insulation marred by water and the subsequent mold. Only walls and wall hangings above the mold lines were salvaged, leaving skeletons of homes to dry out for the next part of the process to begin.

The satisfying part was the large amount of work the volunteers could accomplish in a day, at no charge to the residents. The distressing part, he said, was that the groups would have to move on to different houses the next day. So much more work needed to be done in individual homes and neighborhoods.

Though Choi estimated that Keller Williams volunteers helped clean up 95 homes during their week-long project, that still left more than 100,000 area homes to be cleaned. A post on the Keller Williams Realty Facebook page noted that more than 60,000 volunteer hours had been donated in 25 different locations.

“We couldn’t solve these families’ problems, but we could get them started on their recovery,” he said. “I’m a person that lives my life with gratitude daily, and this experience heightened that gratitude. “

(Editor’s Note: Since returning from Texas, Choi, co-founder Josh Weinberg and 29 of their associates who volunteered in Texas agreed they wanted to raise $100,000 for hurricane relief to help victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. On Wednesday, the Keller Williams Chicago – Lincoln Park team held an all-day, all-office telethon, raising $21,000 toward that goal. Here’s a link to their fundraising site.)

REALTOR® siblings organized their own supply drive for Texas flood victims

Volunteers pause during the supply drive organized by REALTORS® Joyce Zelazik and Frank Klimala.

Homer Glen REALTOR® Joyce Zelazik admits she’s still in awe of the community response to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts she helped organize a few weeks ago.

“It was just a beautiful community effort,” says Zelazik, who works for Coldwell Banker The Real Estate Group in Homer Glen.

After eight days of work, Zelazik and her brother, REALTOR® and trucking company owner Frank Klimala, had garnered enough support to fill a 53-foot long semi-trailer with bottled water, Gatorade, non-perishable food, bleach, cleaning supplies, diapers, toilet paper, towels, light blankets, pet food and toiletries.

“At the beginning, we posted on our Facebook page that we wanted to collect certain kinds of items to help the flood victims around Houston,” said Zelazik. “We didn’t feel like we needed any more volunteers (than the family, friends and colleagues who’d already committed to help). But during the final weekend, the people came and they came and they came. Some stayed all day long and volunteered to watch the trailer so nothing would happen to the contents. Some even came back to help the next day. It was very organic.”

How they made it happen

By far, organizing the effort was the most time-consuming, difficult and necessary part of the process, she says. Zelazik needed to determine what items were needed, find a safe place to collect them, a secure place to keep them and a reliable person or organization to receive them in Texas.

Klimala arranged for a trailer to be parked at the Homer Glen collection site and paid a driver to transport the donated items to Texas.

Through a mutual friend, Zelazik found a reliable contact in a Willis, Texas pastor who used to live in the Joliet area. The pastor found a warehouse to store the donations. Later, church volunteers drove smaller trucks to the warehouse and distributed the necessities to flood victims in smaller nearby towns where aid workers had not been yet.

Help comes from many directions

(l to r) REALTOR® Ed Prodehl, Sandy Prodehl, REALTOR® Joyce Zelazik and REALTOR®Frank Klimala during a break in the Homer Glen supply drive for Hurricane Irma victims.

Homer Glen area businesses, including Coldwell Banker, provided donations and support. A Big R store guided local volunteers toward needed items that could be purchased in the store. One donor gave 75 five-gallon buckets full of cleaning supplies one day, then came back the next day with 90 more.

A view inside the back of the Homer Glen truck shows numerous buckets filled with cleaning supplies and boxes of other donated items.

One volunteer, who worked for a company that manufactured backpacks, helped fill numerous backpacks with school supplies for children who’d be starting the school year under duress. Another woman drove from Wisconsin to pitch in after reading about the project on Facebook.

Real estate professionals from around the area joined in to help. Zelazik noted that she had nieces and nephews as young as six years old volunteer, and that a wide variety of people participated. Even after the project was complete, she was receiving text messages asking when the next one like it will begin.

Seeing so many different people come together to help flood victims far away renewed her faith in her fellow man. “I had the time of my life that weekend. It was hard work. It was hot, and it was sweaty. But it was good. I have never seen such a beautiful, spirited community effort.”