CELEBRATION, Fla. – Inspiration can come from anywhere: Here’s how one television show spurred Realtor® Robert Schwartz to give big to his community.
It was a normal Sunday night. Robert Schwartz, a real estate professional with LaRosa Realty in Celebration (near Orlando), his wife Caryn and son Alex were watching the television program “60 Minutes.”
“Something came on about homeless families in Seminole County, which is nearby, and I just felt like I needed to do something,” says Schwartz. “Honestly, I wasn’t ever the guy who says that. I used to give my money instead of my time, but something about this report really grabbed me.”
Within two days, he found a local person who was already helping these families. “Tom Brannigan had an organization called the Green Bag Project where he gives food to different schools in Osceola County,” he recalls. Schwartz helped there until he heard that a school in his own community had 125 families in need of help. In 2011, Schwartz and his neighbor George Moran founded Celebration 34747 Cares. Its mission, quite simply, was to feed children.
Helping families in transition
Schwartz and Moran soon set up a food pantry at the local Celebration K8 School and organized a group of volunteers. Those volunteers put together packages of food; and every Thursday, the food is handed out to children as they boarded their school bus.
“I joke with people and tell them that I get paid every Thursday. They respond back with, ‘I thought you were a non-profit organization,’ and I tell them I just got a hug from a third grader after giving him a backpack of food. That touches my heart,” he says. In fact, in some cases, this backpack of food is the only food the kids have all weekend.
Celebration 34747 Cares gives out 102 food bags each week and has recently picked up another local school—Floral Ridge Elementary. They have about 10 regular volunteers and some “wonderful donors and corporate sponsors (Wal-Mart, Darden Restaurants and the Town Foundation of Celebration to name a few) who provide food and supplies,” he says.
Going the extra step
But, it doesn’t end there. “We first started to feed the kids via food packs given to them as they boarded the bus to go home. That led to us setting up tables with extra family food, toiletries and clothing. Most of the families we deal with reside in local hotels and struggle to make ends meet day to day,” says Schwartz. He also says that people call him for food every day. “We have mentored many families lately and have advised them on how to get the help that they need,” he says. “We try to transition these folks out of the hotels and into more permanent housing. If I have to help them find a job, I’ll do whatever I can.”
He’s not kidding. Schwartz has helped children get their teeth fixed, helped people get jobs, found them downpayment assistance for apartments and also bought clothing for those going on job interviews. “Between George (co-founder of the charity) and I, we spend about 15 to 20 hours a week shopping, stocking and mentoring,” he says. “Being in real estate allows me to be out in the community helping people as I’m doing my job.”
Getting recognized as a community helper has helped him in his business, he says. “People see that I’m trustworthy and hardworking.” But for Schwartz, the true reward comes in seeing his idea blossom into something much bigger. “Helping families is my No. 1 priority. I’m very involved in the local schools and in other community service areas, and I’m setting a great example for my son, who is 16 years old.”
Overall, Schwartz says he will continue to do whatever it takes to help families in transition. “I hope our little organization can inspire more people in the world to step up and give of themselves.”
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) named Robert Schwartz as one of five recipients of its “Volunteering Works” grants for 2013. Funded through The Stuart & Jill Siegel Charitable Foundation, the national program helps Realtors working on small-scale charitable efforts by providing mentors as well as grant money. Schwartz received a $1,000 grant for the nonprofit Celebration 34747 Cares organization, along with a mentor’s guidance on improving fundraising by seeking grants and building a stronger volunteer network.