Realtor® Rick Harris: Advocating for Others

Realtor® Rick Harris: Advocating for Others

Image Credits: Photo credit: Mark Wemple

TAMPA, Fla. – Rick Harris, CEO and president of Richard Harris & Associates Inc. in Tampa, is no stranger to the highs and lows of raising a child with Down’s Syndrome.

“My son, David, started with UPAR, now called The Arc Tampa Bay, when he was a baby in the infant stimulation program,” says Harris. “He’s now 38 years old and lives with five other adults in an Arc group home.”

David’s entry into the group home came at a time when, says Harris, “We were overwhelmed with his care. He became violent and needed to be in a group home. It took three years to get him transferred [to the home], and we were lucky because sometimes you have to wait 10 years.”

Because of this, Harris got involved with The Arc Tampa Bay hoping his real estate experience could help the organization create more housing for the developmentally disabled.

Harris served as the volunteer President of The Arc Tampa Bay, a $12 million nonprofit that runs housing and educational programs for about 275 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is a member of the organization’s Board of Directors.

The Arc TB runs 18 group homes and a 22-unit apartment complex that house more than 150 people. These facilities require remodeling, renting, and sometimes buying and selling, which is made easier with Harris’s real estate expertise. In addition to the years of experience he has accumulated through his real estate business, Harris has earned the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) and General Accredited Appraiser (GAA) designations from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

He has helped The Arc increase its revenue by $250,000 a year.

“He most certainly has put his real estate knowledge to good use,” says Steve Heller, a past president of The Arc TB. “He just puts his heart and soul into trying to do good for our organization and for people who can’t help themselves.”

Fostering independence

The Arc TB runs an art studio, offers classes such as drumming and cooking, and has a work center with assembly lines. “We’re trying to make it so they reach the highest level of independence,” says Polly Stannard, president of The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation. “Managing and making sound decisions for all these facilities, Rick has truly lent his training and his talents to better our organization.”

Harris also thinks about the big picture. “Often with a nonprofit, you’re inundated with your day-to-day operations, and you may not be thinking about this global perspective and bringing some business expertise into the mix,” says Hauenstein. “His insight into the markets and the value of the properties we’re going to invest these nonprofit dollars into have led us to make wise decisions.”

Harris adds, “[Our clients] are special. They have unique talents that a lot of people don’t recognize. One of the artists has autism, can barely speak but has such talent in expressing himself through art.”

At the art studio, Michael Minieri, 56, who was born deaf and has intellectual challenges, wields a paintbrush and colored pencils to create artwork for an annual art show, where some artists sell paintings for as much as $1,400. Without The Arc, “He would have been drawing randomly,” says Carl Minieri, Michael’s father, whose two sons live at The Arc TB. “They do a great job of watching over [them] and giving [them] a great quality of life.”

More than 100 people have found work through The Arc TB’s Supported Employment Program and Work Center, where they may assemble hangers, for example. And about 30 people work for local businesses like the movie theater. “Every one of the 250-plus people we serve is different, but all should be valued in our community,” says Sheldon Hershman, executive director of The Arc TB, who also notes that Harris has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to upgrade their properties.

An ongoing challenge for Stock, Harris, and other board members is balancing the budget, especially when state and federal funds are shrinking. “Costs to operate are increasing faster than funding,” says Harris. And yet they also want to pay their employees fair wages. During Harris’s service as president, The Arc increased compensation for direct-care staff from an average of around $9 an hour to more than $10 an hour. To make this happen, Harris advocated for additional funds from The Arc TB Foundation and added a grant writer to find funds for capital improvement projects.

Harris also took on long-range planning and created a wish list for each property. One goal, which he received a grant to pay for, is to use solar energy to save money. (The annual electric bill for The Arc TB is $130,000.) “With every good idea, you have to have a plan to execute it,” says Harris. “I feel my experience in real estate and leadership has benefited our organization and brought it to a higher level where we can afford to help [more people].”

Harris remains committed to helping the people at The Arc TB live their most productive and joyful lives. “These are the less fortunate who people think have nothing to contribute to society. But they do. You have to find that talent and bring it out.”

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) named Rick Harris as a Good Neighbor Honorable Mention Award winner in 2018. Parts of this article were reprinted with permission of NAR’s Good Neighbor program. Learn more about The Arc Tampa Bay at thearctb.org.

Florida Realtors® serves as the voice for real estate in Florida. It provides programs, services, continuing education, research and legislative representation to 195,000 members in 51 boards/associations. Florida Realtors® Media Center website is available at http://media.floridarealtors.org.

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