Homelessness is a prevalent and heartbreaking issue in the world, one we see every day in Marin County. A driven and passionate group that is making a difference is Home For a Home, which was brought to our attention via Marin realtor and longtime advertising partner Chelsea Ialeggio.
Home For a Home is a coalition of real estate professionals who donate a portion of their earnings toward the construction of homes in Guatemala. The collected funds provide much-needed shelter to homeless families, and members even visit the construction sites to help build and meet the families in person.
We aim to highlight the philanthropic deeds of our advertising partners who dedicate their efforts to the most important causes in our world today, so we took the time to talk with Chris King, the director of this nonprofit that has changed lives in one of the most impactful and tangible ways.
Continuing her work in leveraging the real estate business for the good of others, which King calls a “win-win-win situation”, she describes both the social and personal significance this business model has had in recent years:
1) How did you get involved with Home for Home?
Nick Cooper is the founder of Home For A Home. He also happens to be a good friend and was my real estate agent who helped us purchase our home, something I thought would always be out of reach in San Francisco. We were having dinner one night and he said, “you always know people and I’m looking for someone to help with Home For A Home, can you recommend anyone?”
What he didn’t know was that I was planning to quit my job so that I could travel with my husband, who had been working in international development for over a decade. The mission of Home For A Home is to provide homes for people in need, and in Guatemala the solution costs all of $3400. Brilliant!
I had spent the last five years running operations for an architecture firm. The timing and relativity could not have been better, so I put my hat in the ring. Working with a friend doesn’t always go well, but because Nick and I already had a friend/client relationship I knew our friendship would only make our work together stronger.
2) Why are you personally invested in this cause?
For me, this is a “two sides of the coin” situation. And I LOVE, that, through Home For A Home, I get to address both sides! On one side, I believe people want to good and help make a difference in the world, myself included. I get to help ordinary people connect their desire to give back, to everyday business transactions that are already happening. They don’t have to get a degree in international development or join the peace corp…they can keep doing what they are already good at, in this case, real estate, and make a tangible difference. Home For A Home is a win-win-win situation.
Clients get to feel good that their home purchase is helping another family.
Real Estate professionals have increased purpose and meaning to their work. A Family desperately in need of adequate housing, get a safe solid home. The other side is the fact that extreme poverty is an unrelenting churn of chaos and difficulty for families, yet they survive. There is a lot of pressure for people to leave the violence and poverty they face in a country like Guatemala. Instead of fleeing their homeland, we are seeing families put that flight energy into fighting for their families and communities.
Often, we see that our little spark ignites a fire that drives families forward in huge ways. They react by using the safe, solid home as a leaping off point – in many cases, it is both empowering and transformative. On our recent visit, we saw families starting businesses, preparing for college, planting gardens, and reaching out to support their neighbors.
3) Have you been on-site working on the Guatemala project? Can you share what you know about it and what work you've seen Home For a Home do it so far?
Yes. We’ve made it a priority to work with local organizations that have intimate knowledge of the communities we serve, who understand the local culture ways and know how to make the most impact. We’ve chosen partners to build the homes that don’t rely on outside volunteers but employ local masons to construct the houses. We also work with the families beyond construction with other organizations to offer a variety of poverty reduction programs from ensuring they have proof of ownership of their property to follow up training on home maintenance and budgeting for future home repairs.
4) How have the families reacted to you and this organization's endeavors to help them?
Overwhelmingly, they are thankful. We are helping to improve their living situation with them, not for them. Even though most of the families live well below the international poverty line of $2/day, they contribute financially to their home. As a result, it is inspiring to visit and see the ways the families have made home improvements and see their self-expression in the different ways they’ve decorated their home.
5) What is your favorite story or a Home For a Home achievement that you are the proudest of or the most affected by?
Empowering others and connecting people through one of life’s basic needs, shelter. Whether you ask someone in Guatemala or Marin County, “What does home mean to you?” the response is the same…home is love, security, family, peace, etc…. On my recent visit to Guatemala, I met Veronica. What little money she makes as a cleaner, she spends to feed her four daughters.
She told me she is grateful for the opportunity to have a house because, as a single mom, she never thought she would be able to provide that for her children. Guatemala has an exceptionally high rate of violence against women. When you ask her, Veronica’s word for home is protection. She told me that she is protected from the elements, the sun, rain, and wind, that her daughter is no longer getting sick all of the time and that she is happy because she is no longer afraid like she was in her old house.
She also told me that she is thankful for us because, through this, we brought her “apoyo” or support, not just the physical support the home provides, but the emotional support of the care provided in the process. To date, we have helped 175 families like Veronica’s. With the dedication of our members and help of others who want to get involved, we are on target to hit 200 homes this year!
The astounding ripple effect of Home For a Home is, especially in these times, inspiring and uplifting — to say the least. Fans, followers, and members of this organization have only grown in number in Marin County, one recent supporter being Chelsea Ialeggio, who has been in the business since 2003 and is excited for the chance to leverage her skills for the sake of others. “The sense of security, warmth, and peace that a home provides changes a person’s life”, says Ialeggio.
Home For A Home supplies each home with a living room, a bathroom with a shower and flushing toilet, a water filter system, and a fully functioning wood burning stove. Every family also receives follow-up training on home maintenance, sanitation, and financial budgeting in order to become informed homeowners who can take full ownership of their new property.
The business model certainly does create a triple-win situation and continues to provide shelter for those who need the safety, comfort, and hope that a home brings.
We hope that more people will see the profound good of Home For a Home’s efforts like King and Ialeggio and follow suit in the mission to provide homeless families with the sense of belonging and safety.
Leslie Lee is a contributor at Marin Magazine. She enjoys fruit and British T.V. shows to an unhealthy degree. When she is not eating a bucketful of berries or shopping at Madewell, you can find her fellow-shipping with her Bible study group or at her local church. After hearing Blake Lively’s harrowing testimony, she supports the Nonprofit Child Rescue Coalition in the fight against child pornography and donates to her church fund to help support foster kids.