“The heart of the realtor is very, very big": compassionate property agents support communities

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      Vancouver realtor Tom Choy goes by one principle about giving back to the community.

      “Not everyone can be a Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Mother Teresa, but all of us can do something to help others,” Choy told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      The associate broker with Royal Pacific Realty volunteers at Salvation Army kitchens in Vancouver and Richmond.

      “When you feed the hungry, you give them hope,” Choy said.

      The former New York stockbroker also raises funds to support deserving but poor students at Ateneo de Manila University. Choy, of Filipino and Chinese heritage, finished a degree in economics at that Philippine institution.

      Karen Conyers of Sotheby’s International Realty specializes in White Rock and South Surrey properties. Because her passion lies in building bonds between people and animals, she serves as the chairperson and president of the Kindred Community Farm Sanctuary.

      Conyers recalled that Kindred started out with children from difficult situations. They were often on the run with their mothers, fleeing from abuse. The kids went to the Surrey farm to learn about planting crops and caring for animals rescued from inhumane conditions.

      “Our goal was to break the cycle of violence, which starts at a very, very early age,” Conyers told the Straight by phone.

      Kindred plans to move to a bigger location, preferably a four- to five-hectare plot, in order to expand its programs for people of all ages. The charitable organization wants to find land within its means, and it welcomes support from property owners.

      By Conyers’s estimation, about 70 percent of realtors, in general, volunteer in their communities.

      “That’s a huge number for any industry,” she said.

      Conyers cited a common misconception about realtors: “There’s a perception out there that we’re all about the money, but it’s really about helping people and caring about our communities.”

      She explained that realtors do not keep typical office hours. They enjoy flexibility in how they spend their time. They can devote attention to matters close to their heart, from cancer-fund drives to supporting sports teams.

      “The heart of the realtor is very, very big,” Conyers said.

      Every year, realtors from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), Fraser Valley Real Estate Board (FVREB), and Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board (CADREB) collect blankets and warm clothing to give away during the winter.

      The Realtors Care Blanket Drive marks its 26th year in 2020. The program, begun in 1995, constitutes the largest and longest-running blanket drive in B.C.

      Colette Gerber of Sutton West Coast Realty serves as the president of the REBGV, which runs a number of charitable initiatives.

      Gerber cited as an example the Realtors Care Shelter Drive, which helps to raise funds for housing-related charities. Every year, three such charities benefit. For 2020-2021, realtors chose these organizations: Aunt Leah’s Place in New Westminster, Dixon Transition Society in Burnaby, and Zero Ceiling in Whistler.

      When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, Gerber noted, realtors donated masks and money. Some provided food for children who stopped going to school, where they used to get meals.

      “We are people persons,” Gerber told the Straight by phone about why realtors are involved in their communities.

      In their line of work, according to Gerber, realtors sometimes hear from sellers and buyers about difficult personal issues. These include having fallen on hard times or financial challenges in finding an appropriate home for a family.

      “These are the kinds of stories you hear, and you go, ‘Oh, my goodness, I want to help,’ ” Gerber said.

      Chris Shields of Sutton Premier Realty serves as president of the FVREB, which covers Abbotsford, Langley, Mission, North Delta, Surrey, and White Rock.

      “Our board has donated over $182,000 to local food banks since 2011, and many of our members throughout the valley volunteer at local food banks,” Shields told the Straight by phone.

      These volunteers include Shields’s business partner, realtor Rob Christensen. “We care about the issues that affect the quality of life in our communities,” Shields said.

      He also said that clients want to live in safe, healthy, and vibrant communities, with access to schools, amenities, greenspaces, and public transit.

      FVREB programs include Realty Watch, which helps police keep communities safe. The “extra eyes and ears” initiative started in 1995. CADREB adopted the program in 2003, and the REBGV followed in 2006.

      Shields also said that the FVREB received an offer to purchase a 1.4-hectare vacant property owned by the board in the Guildford area of Surrey. If the sale completes, the proceeds will be held in trust in perpetuity by the Fraser Valley Realtors Charitable Foundation to fund various programs.

      Vancouver realtor Choy believes that good deeds, whether big or small, transform people and the world.

      “Even simple kindness counts,” Choy said. “Those little things add up.”