Heather Griesser LaPierre, Debbie McCabe and Kathy Opperman, all from the Tri-County Suburban Realtors®, are being recognized on the national stage for their work in the nonprofit sector in the commonwealth. From Sept. 1 through Oct.3, the public can vote for their favorite of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, with the top three vote-getters receiving bonus grant money for their nonprofits. Additionally, NAR will ultimately choose five winners who will receive a $10,000 grant for their organization.
LaPierre founded the Philadelphia chapter of Kids Against Hunger, which she started seven years ago. She began by fundraising and packing bags of food in her basement. Today, they are in a 5,000 square foot warehouse. “There are so many ways to get involved in so many charities and so many different ways to give back. I grew up volunteering and it was important to me that my kids to volunteer. I was looking for something that we could do as a family with our kids,” she said.
Additionally, she, along with her parents as part of the Griesser LaPierre Team, began donating a percentage of their commission for every house sold to the organization.
Together, volunteers pack bags of food for children in need. “It is a fun, unique experience. You come in as a stranger and leave as friends,” she said. To date, the organization has packed more than 10 million meals.
LaPierre is at Kids Against Hunger seven days a week, while also balancing a busy real estate career. “It’s a juggling act, but our clients understand what we do and stand by it. I feel like this is my purpose. I never mind being there, I absolutely love what I do. That is where I go to find peace on my hardest day. I love it there, even if it’s chaotic sometimes.”
“Every six seconds, a kid dies of starvation or nutrition. I want to stop it. I know it sounds crazy, but I won’t stop,” she added. “It makes me keep going.”
McCabe has been a board member at Covenant House Pennsylvania for nine years. The organization strives to help teenagers and young adults who have aged out of the foster system, but are experiencing homelessness. The crisis center has 76 beds and the center offers assistance for finding a job or furthering education.
“I knew right away I wanted to be involved,” said McCabe. “I had five kids in high school and college at the time. It really spoke to me; the kids we were working with were generally between 18 and 22. As any parent of an 18- year-old knows, they are legally allowed to do a lot of things, but they are still very much a child. My children at the time were those exact ages. I wanted to do more.”
In her first year, McCabe participated in the Sleep Out, where business executives and the board of directors sleep outside in solidarity, while raising funds for Covenant House.
“It was like nothing I have ever experienced in giving money or time to a charity,” said McCabe. “This was sleeping on the ground in a parking lot. My first night there, I don’t think I slept very much. But it was amazing. You woke up the next week and realized you made a difference. That was the beginning of it.”
Since then, McCabe has recruited other Realtors® to participate, and to date, her team has raised more than $300,000 for the organization.
“You always make time to do things in your community,” she said. “You have to make time to give back. I promise you it will help your business. But it also is what we should be doing. I encourage anyone to find an organization that you are passionate about and get involved.”
“Everyone can make a difference. But you don’t make one unless you ask. Too many people are afraid of asking,” she added.
Opperman founded Pillars of Light and Love in 2013 originally as a wellness center, but in less than a year, she began turning it into a nonprofit, officially solidifying the status in 2015. “I was offering support group and stress management classes and people had to pay to come. After eight months or so, people told me they needed to be there more, but couldn’t afford it. It was a community need, but not affordable for everyone.”
The organization now offers a multitude of programs and support groups which include grief support, help with anxiety, healthy coping skills training, and anti-bullying and self-confidence building programs for people aged five and older and has offered over 800 different classes since its inception. “As I learn there is a need in a community, if I am able to, I create a program,” she said.
Additionally, Pillars of Light and Love is planning on opening a restaurant later this year, where at least 60% of the staff will be people with disabilities. “We are going to be extremely flexible with
our employees,” she said. “We are also creating positions for people who can’t do anything at a restaurant, so we will have a paid greeter. So many people in the community are volunteering to help. We need volunteers to help our employees learn their jobs. The support from the community has been absolutely tremendous and so far, we have raised $131,000 in donations.”
Despite being hands-on at Pillars of Light and Love, Opperman still finds time to practice real estate. “We always make the time to do the things we want to do. I never stop, except to sleep six hours. You always make time to do the things you do and I make the time,” she added. “I do not take a salary of any kind from Pillars of Light and Love. It is a labor of love and investment that I make.”