FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a routine day in 2011 for Kerry Constantine, broker/owner of Power Brokers Real Estate Inc. in Fort Myers. Regularly working with investors, Constantine would visit foreclosures and short sales to determine whether the property was suitable for investment.
This time, she picked her kids up from school and took them to one of the houses with her. “I’m looking at the house from a number perspective. How much rent can I get? How much work does it need? And, my kids were looking at it like, what family used to live here? Where did they go?” says Constantine, who is a 2015 recipient of the National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) Volunteering Works program. Through the program, Realtors® with small-scale charitable efforts are paired with grant money and mentors to help expand their reach.
Seeing the human side
“We’ve dealt with so many foreclosures that many agents have become desensitized to the human side,” she says. “My kids were tremendously affected by it.” It was a wake-up call for Constantine as well.
“It helped remind me of the personal things that people are going through in the homes that I am buying. I was all about the numbers. But, every house has a story, and a lot of people have gone through hard times,” she says.
Her son, Will, who was in third grade at the time, decided to have people bring blankets instead of presents to his birthday party.
“From there, more people joined in, and we would have blanket drives, then pass out the blankets and breakfast to homeless people on Thanksgiving morning,” she recalls.
Constantine, Will (12), her other son, Jack (10) and husband, Bill, would go to outreach charities on days that they were serving food and hand out blankets, toiletries, ponchos, bug spray and more.
Forming a nonprofit
Their outreach efforts have grown exponentially from that starting point. In 2015, Constantine secured 501c3 nonprofit status for the charity, called Blankets and Blessings. They now have a board of directors, along with an unofficial junior board comprised of children ages 10 to 12 years old. “Our goal is that we want kids to know that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that their job is to give back,” she says.
Constantine stays motivated through the inspiration of those she helps and her friends, who came together to serve on the board. However, a few people have especially touched her heart.
“We met a homeless mom of three children who reached out to us,” she says. “The woman had just moved to the area, but her job and housing fell through, so she was living in the boardroom at the Salvation Army.”
Constantine and her friends used social media and made phone calls asking for help for this family. Nine months after helping this mom find housing and get a job, the woman called Constantine to let her know that she is in now a position to give back. “Sometimes people are suspicious of folks who are homeless, but there are a lot of good people in bad circumstances,” Constantine says.
Constantine says this happens all the time, and those are the people who inspire her. She adds, “There is this gentleman, a vet, who was homeless. He recently got into housing and came back to us to help others. He brings supplies to the people living in the woods. It’s fabulous.”
While Constantine and her volunteers don’t go into the wooded areas, she’s found a way to get the supplies to the homeless living there. “Every Saturday we have a friend who feeds the homeless in the park and does a Bible study. We support her and bring supplies,” she says. In addition, Constantine goes to other events offering a hot meal to people experiencing homelessness.
She notes, “We’re trying to redesign a logo and build a website (for the charity). We still have a goal of putting together 200 bags of toiletries every month. Now that we have official status, we can buy in bulk, and that has kept our cost down so we can serve more people.” Helping others is addictive, Constantine says.
“I love working with real estate investors, but now I spend equal time working on my charity,” she says.
For Constantine, it comes down to this: “I know that what we’re doing is not solving the problem of homelessness. But everyone can do something small to help others. And, even those small things are appreciated. From buying someone coffee on a cold day to smiling and treating a person as a human, all things are important.”
Kerry Constantine is a member of the Realtor® Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach. She was named a 2015 Volunteering Works recipient by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) for her advocacy and outreach on behalf of the homeless in Southwest Florida. Read more about it here: http://www.realtor.org/news-releases/2015/05/realtor-volunteering-works-program-announces-2015-grants-and-mentoring-recipients