HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Volunteering is not new to Ellen Mitchel, team leader of Prestige Properties Team and an agent with RE/MAX Advanced Realty in Hollywood. After all, she’s a licensed foster parent, is active with the Special Olympics in her area, and worked with the Department of Children and Family Services collecting and delivering holiday gifts for underprivileged families. But, it was a family vacation that truly was her “a-ha” moment.
Her ‘a-ha’ moment
In 2004, when her daughter Heather Bithell was 13 years old, Mitchel decided to go on a family vacation to Cape Town, South Africa.
“There were tens of thousands of people living on the side of the road,” she says. “Picture [our local interstate] with families living on the side of it in abject poverty. It was shocking to me.”
From that moment, the wheels started turning, and Mitchel was trying to figure out a way to combine her love of travel with her passion, and what she describes as her “obligation to give back.”
She found that in a flier on a table in the lobby of her local synagogue. “The flier was for a mission to Cuba. It was seven days and a 30-minute plane ride. I had been seeking trips that might work for my daughter (Mitchel’s husband did not go) and I, and this was the first that did,” she says.
Traveling to Cuba
“They gave us a list of items such as bandages, children’s Tylenol, socks – things we take for granted,” she says. Of course, Mitchel and her daughter brought a lot more. “Everyone brought more than that,” she says.
The trip, she says, inspired her to continue to give as much as she could.
“I met an Orthodox Jewish man who requested that we send new shoes for everyone in the area. I thought of my closet full of shoes and how spoiled I am. It was a powerful moment for me and spurred me to work hard to improve the lives of those in my community,” she says.
Mitchel and Bithell planned a second trip to Cambodia this year. “My daughter and her partner, Kim Bowling, and I are working with organizations called Restore One and She Rescue, working with girls who were victims of sex trafficking. We’re volunteering in a hospital and spending the majority of our time in a small village teaching English,” she says. “The majority of tourists are from Australia and New Zealand, so if we’re able to teach them some English, they can work in hospitality. It will change their lot in life since they won’t have to work in the rice patties anymore.”
Bowling is a nurse practitioner, so she will be helping from a medical standpoint; while Bithell and Mitchel will be teaching feminine hygiene and more.
For Mitchel, her volunteer work always comes back to women and children. Mitchel was in foster care for three weeks before she was adopted. An adopted foster child, Mitchel learned to give back from a family she knew in Chicago. The then-12-year-old Mitchel became close friends with the Halls, a large Catholic family. Mitchel, who is Jewish, says she watched in awe as the Hall family loved their foster children and instilled a culture of giving within the entire family.
“People think in order to volunteer you need to have a lot of money or means, but that’s not true,” Mitchel says. “There are everyday ways everybody can volunteer and give.”
Mitchel says she will continue to do what she can for local and national charitable activities – and through her vacations, that usually double as humanitarian missions. “For me, this work feeds my soul,” she explains.
She suggests that other real estate professionals find their passion for volunteering: “Find something [a charitable program] that you enjoy. Find something that feeds your soul.”
For more on what Mitchel is doing for local charities, go to http://www.miamire.com/miami-blogs/miami-blog/2017/05/15/from-cuba-to-cambodia-hollywood-realtor-s-humanitarian-missions-inspire