It was 1985. Homelessness was an issue emerging in the public’s consciousness. People were appearing on Shattuck and Solano Avenue asking for food and money. Unheard of! Here we were, helping people buy and sell homes every day, and homelessness was growing in our own community. As agents, what could we do? Someone mentioned that if we contributed even a small amount – maybe $10 or $20 from each commission – we could come up with a fairly sizable chunk by the end of the year. Somehow, we weren’t sure just how, we thought that might help.
The math was impressive. Several hundred sales a year. A little from each commission added up. It was even better if Red Oak, the company, could make matching contributions from its share of each commission.
The idea caught on. We talked more about it. Some agents signed up immediately, others joined more slowly, but soon most our agents were on board. By the end of the year, we had real money (for those days) – about $4,000 to donate. But to whom?
A committee of agents and owners was formed, dubbed ROOF: Red Oak Opportunity Fund. The committee determined that the contributions should go to organizations which did not otherwise receive heavy funding. The committee felt that, in addition to decent housing, good education was a major contributor to the quality of life in our community. (Many of our agents are former public school teachers.) We decided that ROOF funds would go to housing organizations, education and any remaining would be discretionary. Committee members made recommendations based on their own connections and preferences. We examined solicitations received during the year. ROOF now distributes funds once a year by giving grants to small, local non-profits. Grant deadline is every November and our grant application is available online, please see our GRANTS page for more information.
In the first years, ROOF simply mailed checks and letters to the recipients. The response was gracious and heartfelt. We received phone calls, letters, and visits from grateful volunteers, expressing their thanks for our support. We in turn thanked them for their dedicated work. After several years, the fund and its circle of recipients grew. The committee decided that it was important for the recipients to meet one another. We held our first ROOF award ceremony in 1997 at the Red Oak office, inviting our friends and clients to participate. Several of our clients not only attended, but, even though this was not the intent, by the end of the evening, they made their own personal contributions.
It was only after the gathering of the recipients that we fully realized the impact of what we had done. We met and talked face to face with people who spent their days quietly working to help others, without a lot of recognition, and certainly not much in the way of monetary rewards. When they got up to tell their stories, many in the room got a lump in their throat and a glimpse of a life they did not know much about.
The most moving part of the evening was that, though the recipients all needed and appreciated the money, what seemed to be even more important to them was the recognition. To receive a check, unsolicited, from a group of business people meant that someone “out there” had noticed. Some seemed incredulous. Over and over again, the recipients expressed their thanks, not just for the funds, but for paying attention.
Years went by and ROOF prospered. In 1997, Mayor Shirley Dean of Berkeley issued a proclamation declaring a “Red Oak Realty Week” for the city of Berkeley, in recognition of our contributions to the community.
The following year, in 1998, an angel appeared. One of Red Oak’s clients, who wishes to remain anonymous, was impressed with the work ROOF. was doing, and offered to match whatever funds we raised during the year. To do so, ROOF had to formally become a 501(c) 3 nonprofit charitable organization. We changed the last word in our acronym from “Fund” to “Foundation”. From that point on, all contributions to ROOF became tax deductible. The result is that we have vastly increased the contributions not only from agents, but from clients and business associates. As of 2015 ROOF’s total contribution to these worthy groups surpassed $1,000,000.
ROOF has received praise and recognition for its efforts. In 2005 ROOF was honored with the Distinguished Business Partner Award from the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, one of ROOF’s core recipients. In 2006, the Berkeley Association of Realtors gave ROOF its “BAR Cares Award”, given in appreciation for members who make a difference in our communities.
We are happy to make a difference to those in need. We are grateful to our agents, staff and others who have so generously contributed over the years. We are also grateful to those who receive our grants. The people who run these organizations and their volunteers deserve not only our financial support, but our recognition and our gratitude as well. It sounds trite, but despite all the depressing nightly news reports, the fact that there are people out there who have quietly dedicated their lives to assisting others should give us all a welcome dash of hope.
Here is your chance to help our community in a big way. Please consider contributing whatever you can to help make a better quality of life for those most in need!