BROWNSVILLE – A group of real estate professionals got hands on today in Brownsville, restoring a playground and community spaces at two women’s shelters. Business attire wasn’t required, but gloves and ear protection and dust masks were, the hum of an office giving way to the buzz of electric grinders, the knock of hammers, and the whines and beeps of an electric scissor lift, which ferried volunteers up and down, too and fro.
Nearly 100 volunteers, mostly women, were working together at the second annual She Builds Day, a “women helping women” event organized by Rebuilding Together NYC, a nonprofit that provides home repairs and vocational training to low-income New Yorkers.
For their project, two adjacent women’s shelters—and the playground between them—run by Win (Women in Need), a New York non-profit and the largest provider of shelter and transitional housing to women and children in the city.
There are more than 400 units of transitional housing between the two buildings at the site, and almost every one of them has at least one child, said Kimberly George, executive director at Rebuilding NYC.
“The units are really small,” said George, “and kids need to get outside and exercise.”
Groups were working to sand off peeling paint and grind rust away from the fixtures in the park, which present a health hazard. Other volunteers followed behind, repainting railings and park benches.
In one corner of the common area, a group worked at framing up what would become a portable greenhouse for residents to use.
The volunteers in the cool morning air had it made, but another group was working just as hard in the much hotter basement in one of the buildings, assembling “Safe & Healthy Housing Kits” for distribution to the shelter’s residents.
Stacks of black plastic toolboxes lined the walls, and volunteers ferried them over to an assembly line to be packed full: gloves, flashlight, batteries, cleaning supplies, even rags made from old Rebuilding NYC t-shirts.
“This is transitional housing,” Kimberly George explained, “So we wanted to give residents something to help them set up their new home once they transition into something more permanent.”
It was quite an operation, and a testament to the organization and drive of a group that hasn’t existed for all that long: the Women in Real Estate Committee.
The committee was formed after the first She Builds day last year, said Laurie Grasso, a real estate partner at Hunton & Williams LLP. That project was in conjunction with the Women’s Prison Association NYC, a nonprofit that helps women leaving incarceration to secure housing and reunite with their children.
“I attended with some friends from the [real estate] industry,” she explained, “And afterwards we realized we had to get involved in a bigger way.”
The fifteen women of the committee are industry leaders representing some of the most influential groups in real estate. But after working at such a high level, Grasso said they relished the opportunity to get directly involved with the people to whom securing housing is such a big step.
So, they geared up for the next She Builds, working together with Rebuilding NYC to plan the event. “We managed to raise $90,000 in capital,” said Grasso, “And each member of the committee went to their firms to solicit volunteers.”
It clearly worked, and as she spoke, the veritable army of real estate pros swirled around us, moving supplies, wielding power tools, cracking open fresh cans of paint, and planning their next moves to improve the shelter space.
Along the high concrete wall of the courtyard, a group taped off the lines of enormous letters on a mural that was dull and flaking, badly in need of a touch-up. It’s message was simple: “TOGETHER”