BOCA RATON, Fla. – At an age when most people are slowing down and considering retirement, Mike and Betsy Owen with Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Boca Raton decided to work harder than they’ve ever worked before in Khao Lak, Thailand—a place devastated by the tsunami of 2004.
“We were part of a team of 12 Realtors® from across the country,” says Mike Owen. “We went with a group from the National Association of Realtors as part of a Habitat for Humanity project.” At the time both Mike and Betsy were 64 years old and were committed to building a home (without the aid of power tools) for Urai Yotharak, a local woman who lost her husband and her home in the tsunami. “Mike came home one day and said we have to go to Thailand. We have to help build houses and get them on their feet,” says Betsy. And, they haven’t slowed down since.
The work in Thailand was grueling. “We mixed concrete, laid foundations, carried cement blocks,” says Betsy, “all in 100-degree heat during monsoon season.” Despite the backbreaking manual labor, the Owens stayed two weeks. “We wanted more than a token effort,” says Betsy.
"We had to deal with workers who spoke three to four different languages, but we all worked with each other to accomplish a major amount of work… "
And, the appreciation shown by the locals made it more than worth it. “Urai started out watching us carefully,” says Betsy. “She wasn’t sure if we were really there to help but after a few days, she was a totally different person, engaged and appreciative. Her enthusiasm helped motivate us.”
Mike was no stranger to Habitat for Humanity, having worked with them locally and on a nationwide level with the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) building homes in states where NAR had its national conventions. He is also on the board of directors for the local Habitat for Humanity. In fact, the Owens’ work with Habitat and many other charities and relief efforts earned them the 2009 Florida Realtors Humanitarian of the Year award.
Since then, the Owens, both in their early 70s, have continued to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in addition to working with Rotary International, organizing polio vaccines to those in Pakistan, India, Africa and Afghanistan. “I am a polio survivor,” says Betsy, who is active in Rotary International and was an officer with them. “So, it was disturbing for me to see countries who are not vaccinating against this nearly eradicated disease.”
Through the Polio Plus Challenge, Rotary International, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Dr. Margaret Chan are working toward a goal of wiping out the disease worldwide. When these two humanitarians learned about a National Immunization Day project, the Owens booked a flight halfway around the world—at their own expense—to serve on an immunization team in India.
During a three-day intensive effort, the Owens administered an oral polio vaccine to children known as “untouchables” living in the slums of Chandigarh, located in Northern India, near provinces Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, not far from the Pakistan border.
Both Mike and Betsy have one common goal: to give back to mankind whatever they can, because of all mankind has given them.
Mike says, “As recently as three to four years ago, some 27,000 children from around the world ages one to five died daily from preventable diseases, bad water and malnutrition. For the cost of a Starbuck’s coffee, we can do so much good if we can get the resources to those other areas.
“What are you willing to give up? A little bit can make a big difference.”
Not only are the Owens passionate about making a difference in the world around them, they are also dedicated Realtors who have taken additional education courses to enhance their knowledge and expertise. For example, Mike Owen has earned the professional designations of Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS), Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR) and Graduate, Realtor Institute (GRI). He served as president of Florida Realtors in 1991 and was named its Realtor of the Year in 1993. The National Association of Realtors recognized Mike Owen in 2008 with its Distinguished Service Award – its highest honor for members. A teacher for more than 40 years, Betsy Owen also has been honored for her dedication to her students in her former profession. In 2004, she received the Teacher Inspiration Award from the Journalism Education Association. Florida Realtors honored Mike and Betsy Owen as Humanitarians of the Year in 2009 for their dedication to the global community and the real estate profession.