Becoming an agent of change

by special contributor

by Nadine Scodro, volunteer and advocacy specialist with Mainstreet Organization of Realtors

If you had the funds to make spaces in your community better, what would you do? Would you help transform a local park to be accessible to those with disabilities? Maybe you’d choose to create a gathering spot immersed in nature out of a vacant lot. Maybe you’d help a community garden blossom, providing more access to fresh produce for your neighbors.

As a real estate professional, you’re more than just a broker. You’re an active member of your community with a unique understanding of what makes it great — and what could make it even better. That’s the motivation behind the National Association of Realtors’ placemaking program, and why local associations such as the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors team up with NAR via the Community Outreach Grant Program: to provide Realtors with the resources they need to be agents for change.

Volunteers clearing a historic walking path in the HeatherRidge Woods subdivision.

Quin O’Brien and others use placemaking grant funds to re-establish an historic walking path in the HeatherRidge Woods subdivision.

Placemaking is a way to enhance your community by turning unused spaces into welcoming, accessible destinations for everyone in a community. While placemaking can be done by anyone, real estate professionals are among the best-suited individuals to take on the challenges of placemaking. Think about it: Who else knows an area like you do? Who better to identify problems, bring people together and focus efforts to enhance underutilized spaces than a Realtor?

But it’s not just about community knowledge and will. Too often, important projects are left unexplored because community leaders lack the resources to act. That’s where the NAR Placemaking Grant comes in. When NAR announced this program, MORe jumped at the opportunity to be involved. Earlier this year, MORe was awarded $75,000 by NAR to establish our program and help our members make a difference in their communities. Our Community Outreach Grants fund the creation of new, outdoor public spaces and destinations in a community.

Though we’ve only had funding since May, our members have already used their wealth of area knowledge and action-oriented skill sets to affect meaningful change in their neighborhoods.

In Lisle, Suzanne Treudt of The Treudt Group with Realty Executives Premiere, is utilizing grant funds to enhance the Sensory Garden Playground, an inclusive park that promotes wellness and activity for people of all abilities. Treudt is using her community ties to bring a new tube slide to the park’s wheelchair-accessible treehouse by coordinating with public and private stakeholders to add to this widely popular park.

In Gurnee, Quin O’Brien of 4 Sale Realty Advantage, Inc. is using a grant to re-establish an historic walking path in the HeatherRidge Woods subdivision (pictured above). He’s partnered with a local Eagle Scout to add benches and a Little Free Library to this naturally beautiful area. Over Labor Day weekend, scouts and real estate professionals worked together to complete this project so that their neighbors can enjoy the fall colors there.

As the program administrator, words can’t properly express how wonderful it is to hear the excitement from Realtors when they find out their project is going to be funded. But their passion doesn’t stop there — I continuously get emails and calls from them as they’re doing the work. They’re devoted to their communities, and it’s rewarding to see their hard work pay off.

For Realtors, placemaking is about more than community development — it’s great for professional development as well. It will put you in front of sometimes unlikely stakeholders, such as city or elected officials, and positions you as an expert in your community.

From promoting your business to leveraging your existing relationships for change, participating in the placemaking program offers the opportunity to demonstrate what you already know to be true: Realtors are the go-to people for all things community. It not only plants the seed for what can be in your community, but also positions you as a vital resource in it.

That’s why I hope you’ll join us! If you’re a Mainstreet member, please visit our website to learn more about the program, types of projects that are funded and whether or not your project is within our jurisdiction. If you’re a member of another local association, reach out to your contacts there to find out if your association is participating in a similar program. You have the knowledge and skills to create permanent change in your community, and placemaking grants offer the resources to help you get the job done.

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