Last fall, Rachel Luttrell was standing in front of a grill at a Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) campus in the midst of monsoon season. She was volunteering at one of NAIOP’s Dream Team barbecues that fed more than 10,000 homeless individuals last year. The grills were having a hard time staying lit, and she recalls the smell of smoke filling her clothes.
“I felt defeated,” Luttrell says. “We grabbed the batch of burgers to refill the serving line and were greeted by volunteers and CASS clients smiling. The smoke smell no longer smelled foul; it smelled delicious! A few clients raised their hands in the air and welcomed the rain on their skin. No frowns, just joy!”
Luttrell, a senior property manager at ACP Property Services and philanthropy chair for NAIOP Arizona’s Developing Leaders Chapter for professionals under the age of 35, says the moment reminded her to be thankful for the food, shelter and support network she has. Developing Leaders hosts five to 10 events a year, including a Halloween costume drive for UMOM, a “Feeding the Homeless” event at CASS and an event that benefits Children’s Cancer Network.
“We realize the importance of strong community in the success of future generations,” Luttrell says.
Most of Developing Leaders’ events, like NAIOP’s Dream Teams, founded in 2013, cap at 30 people. However, Luttrell points out that most networking events that reach much larger groups of NAIOP members can be turned into a philanthropic opportunity (i.e. making admission to an event nonperishable food).
“It was recognized early on that NAIOP’s members are actively involved in the communities they live and work therefore philanthropy was a natural addition to the existing advocacies. The Developing Leaders felt building relationships occurs best when you are alongside each other, stripped of titles and suites, working together for a common cause.”
Charity is a relatively recent addition to the NAIOP Arizona chapter. In 2008, Megan Creecy-Herman established Developing Leaders’ philanthropy committee, which pre-dates NAIOP Arizona’s own official adoption of charitable efforts in 2010.
Legacy Capital Advisors Principal Keaton Merrell points out that the chapter has engaged in philanthropic events over the years, but didn’t make it a part of annual programming until four years ago. In that time, the chapter has raised about $150,000 for charitable causes through its annual Crawfish Boil benefiting Ryan House and has served about 23,000 meals to homeless individuals. In 2013, NAIOP established Dream Teams, groups of 30 volunteers comprised of about 10 people from three firms, who get together once a month to barbecue burgers and hot dogs for the homeless.
“It is always great to see a Dream Team with volunteers who have never done it before and see them team up to feed 800 homeless people,” Merrell says. “Seeing this massive line of people that you are feeding is very gratifying. People that show up for the first time literally had no idea they would be affecting that many people.”
There’s literally a quarter-mile-long line of homeless, says Chuck Vogel, senior vice president of real estate joint ventures and dispositions at American Realty Capital Properties, Inc.
“Until you go down [to 12th and Madison avenues] and do it the first time, you don’t even get it,” he says.
Just wrapping up its first year, word has spread and there’s a waiting list to get assigned to a Dream Team. Currently, there are more volunteers than space to feed the homeless. Registration costs about $75 per volunteer.
“It’s funny,” Vogel says. “We send a follow-up email with photos, and we get phone calls from people saying, ‘Hey we want to go, too.’ It’s almost a competition. They see who has participated. It’s more about who isn’t on that list. Not who is on it.”