SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. — In the summer of 2005, Realtor® Tricia Carlisle met Tyler.
“I was volunteering at an after-school church outreach program and fell in love with this darling child who had a mouthful of misaligned teeth and whose family lived below poverty level,” she says. “He was small for his age, yet became a real bully. I wanted to help him, so I arranged for him get free braces, and I saw his attitude change. All of a sudden, he realized that there was a community out there that loved him,” says the broker-owner of Stellar Properties & Investments in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
Then, Hurricane Katrina hit and Carlisle wanted to help even more children. Thus was born the Children’s Volunteer Health Network (CVHN) (link underlined to http://www.cvhnkids.org/main/ ), a faith-based non-profit organization that offers uninsured or underinsured school-aged children free and immediate access to medical, dental and mental health care.
CVHN has a mobile dental clinic that visits local schools. Last year, the dentists on the bus saw over 1,000 kids and “that’s only in a few of the schools, grades first through third,” she says. “We had so many children who needed major dental surgery that we decided to open a dental clinic where volunteer dentists perform restorative work for free.”
CVHN also offers everything from medical care to eyeglasses. “Last year we outfitted 142 kids with eyeglasses, doctors performed 72 root canals, we fitted 22 sets of braces, and we took 235 medical and dental appointments,” Carlisle says. “Anything an underprivileged school-age child needs, we either help pay for or get it donated.” Overall, CVHN has set up some 5,800 appointments with doctors and dentists, and has about 96 providers and 70 volunteers.
In fact, says Carlisle, for many parents, just getting the children to the appointments can be tough. “We have volunteers who transport the child from school to the doctor or dentist,” she says. “We also work though St. Vincent DePaul to help these families get free prescriptions. Our ultimate goal is to keep these children healthy and in school.” CVHN works with other charities to find help, such as Children in Crisis.
“We are privately funded; we rely heavily on our angels, such as The Blue Foundation and the Duval Family Foundation. We have no debt and raise money through several events throughout the year,” she says. Events include the Moveable Feast, where CVHN earns a percentage of the sales from different restaurants, and a party fundraiser where a local builder donates playhouses that are auctioned off. “We have a group of 100 people committed to giving $1,000 per year, most of whom are real estate professionals,” she says.
Given the current market, Carlisle says she’s seen a sea change in the people coming for help. “When we first started, the middle class didn’t need our help. Now, they’re forced to come to us and it’s created a whole blanket of compassion that wasn’t there before,” she says.
“We sit back and are amazed at what we’re able to do,” she adds. “If you drive a child to an appointment, you get born again. You get a letter from a parent, and it touches your heart. You have to keep that fire ignited.”
As for her real estate career, “What real estate career?” Carlisle laughs. “I think God has a sense of humor, [when I was getting CVHN started] I became a referring company, and my husband is licensed in Tennessee,” she says. “As CVHN took hold, my focus and joy went to children, so I was active but didn’t list property. I’m still doing referral business though, but I will probably retire at the end of next year.”
Carlisle also plans to pass the torch for the nonprofit’s organization and operation to others, but remain actively involved with CVHN. “I will continue to spend 10 to 15 hours a week raising funds and meeting the children,” she says.
And, while she may be retiring from real estate and from the CVHN presidency, she says the children will “always be in my heart.” She adds, “The infrastructure is there and CVHN will continue to grow. What more can a founder hope for?”
Carlisle is a member of the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors® and her local association honored her with its Humanitarian Award in 2006. Florida Realtors® recognized Carlisle as its Humanitarian of the Year in 2007 for making her vision of the Children’s Volunteer Health Network become a reality. Upon accepting her award, she explained that she created CVHN because . . . “all kids deserve to be healthy, they are our future and our hearts.” She also received national recognition for CVHN when the National Association of Realtors selected her as a 2007 Good Neighbor Honorable Mention winner.