Meet Good Neighbor Finalist Brad Coleman with Metro Estates in Newport Beach, Calif. He knows he got lucky. Now, he relentlessly recruits and fundraises to match at-risk kids with loving, supportive adult mentors.
Meet the 2013 Good Neighbor Award finalists
The Good Neighbor Awards recognize REALTORS® who are making an extraordinary impact through community service. We will profile one of our 10 finalists each day in our Daily News. Five of these finalists will be named winners and will receive $10,000 grants for their charities. They will also be welcomed into the Good Neighbor Society during NAR’s 2013 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. The five honorable mentions each receive $2,500 for their cause.
Starting Sept. 17, we will give our readers the chance to vote for their favorites. On Oct. 1, we will announce the “Web Choice” top vote-getter, along with the five winners of the $10,000 grants. The Web Choice winner will receive an additional grant of $500, whether they are chosen as a Good Neighbor honorable mention or a winner.
The Good Neighbor Awards is sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
Others hit roadblocks. Brad Coleman finds opportunities.
After being discharged at age 23 from the U.S. Marines Corps due to a debilitating back injury from a parachute jump, Coleman needed a new career. He couldn’t afford to go to college. His skills from more than six years in the Marines didn’t seem transferable. Despite three surgeries, sitting for long stretches of time caused him great pain—and still does.
Yet, Coleman was determined not to play the disability card. “I still had two arms and two legs. I felt honored to serve and make a difference,” he says.
He parlayed his perseverance and sales ability into a job as assistant to the broker at Metro Estates in Newport Beach, Calif., a location he chose for its natural beauty and spectacular housing stock. He thrived, moving into sales after six months and then buying an ownership stake two years later.
But four years later, Coleman felt a hole. It was 2004. “I was doing well financially, but not making enough of a difference for others as I did in the Marines,” he says.
His affluent surroundings pointed up the glaring—and growing—dichotomy he also saw: homeless veterans and children with nowhere to go after aging out of foster care. “Once you hit poverty, it’s hard to get on your feet,” says Coleman, now 38. The plight of young boys particularly tugged at his heart. “They pose the biggest risk. Too many of their problems are because their fathers didn’t take responsibility,” he says. “I wanted them to aspire to do more than survive. They didn’t have to relive a parent’s [unsuccessful] life.”
Coleman was determined to find a way to provide consistent, loving guidance, the kind he had experienced growing up in a close-knit family and later among the Marines. “I’ve always had opportunities. I felt a responsibility to give back,” he says. A work colleague suggested Big Brothers Big Sisters, considered the country’s most successful child-adult mentorship program.
“What blew my mind were the local Orange County chapter’s amazing, measurable results. Of the kids entering their program, 100 percent were going to graduate from high school, and 93 percent would matriculate at college,” he says.
The organization’s approach required hard work and money. A staff case manager pairs “Littles”—at-risk youths, aged 6 to 18—with “Bigs.” The kids’ experiences range from living in a single-parent household to dealing with incarcerated parents, domestic violence, neglect, and gang terror. Bigs are trained to be mentors and provide an open ear, empathetic heart, and good values to lay the groundwork for a stable future. That’s the serious side. Then there’s the fun stuff—an important element for many kids who’ve had too little of it in their lives. “There are kids who live 10 minutes from the ocean and have never seen the beach,” Coleman says.
Most Littles and Bigs spend one to two hours a week together. The expectation is that a relationship will last a year, but many never stop.
For the last three and a half years, Coleman’s efforts with BBBS Orange County have demonstrated that success takes place on many fronts. Instead of becoming a Big, he decided he could do more by using his salesmanship, leadership, and tech-savvy skills to fundraise, recruit mentors, organize, and host events to benefit thousands of kids. “If you address the problems of kids, society will have fewer issues down the road. There shouldn’t be a need for charities; kids or wounded warriors should be taken care of automatically,” he says.
Last year, BBBS Orange County mentored 2,050 children, which required more than $3 million, or about $1,500 per child, to find mentors, perform background checks, and train them. There’s a shortage of mentors; about 200 children per year never get off the wait list.
Coleman raised $150,000 last year. Most was raised through leading fundraising events, though his personal donations and event sponsorships alone funded the equivalent of 13 children. Last June, he organized his area’s first “Big for a Day.” The event, held in conjunction with the Orange County Association of REALTORS®, gave both generations a taste of BBBS’s rewards: 30 of the kids on the wait list enjoyed a day at a science center, and 30 REALTORS® tried out the role of mentor. He is repeating “Big for a Day” this fall with 80 participants.
The relationships and results that blossom inspire him to keep going, he says. Alex, 18, and his “Big” Derek have been together 11 years, with Derek providing the male role model that Alex and his single mom craved. Alex quickly found himself modeling behavior. “I watched how Derek washed his hands, studied at the library, got into college, and was fearless. He pushed me to go on a roller coaster; told me if I didn’t face my fears, I’d never achieve much or be independent,” says Alex, now an electrical engineering major at California State University.
Coleman keeps thinking up new ways to expand BBBS’s horizons. After convincing OCAR President Len Herman to involve his group’s 10,000 members to make the area’s BBBS chapter one of four prime charities, he began focusing on finding partners to work together nationally. “The only way we can build strong communities is by starting in our own backyard and building bigger,” he says. “We have to make a difference in the lives of these precious children.”
—By Barbara Ballinger