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Charity Begins at Home

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Favorite Charities of Real-Estate Professionals
Compiled by Marene Gustin

OutSmart’s real-estate professionals provide more than just expertise in assisting their clients with buying or selling homes. Many of them are seasoned professionals who volunteer their time and resources to charitable organizations. We asked them about their passion for the business and the community. Here’s what they had to say, along with a few amusing stories thrown in.

Bryan K. Cotton
Bryan K. Cotton

Bryan K. Cotton
Bryan Cotton Properties LLC.
281.993.9993 • [email protected]

Charity: Out for Education

Bryan Cotton loves selling homes, but he also loves Out for Education. “Once you meet the students we help, it’s hard not to feel passionate about Out for Education,” he says. “They are really the motivating force behind what we do, and every student leaves an impact on you.” Besides being the current president of the organization that provides scholarships for Houston’s LGBT youth, Cotton has been selling homes for 17 years and just loves working with people. He likens himself to a temporary therapist to help guide them through the home-buying process. But things don’t always go as planned when showing homes.

“Nothing quite tops the time I walked into a home, with my clients next to me, to find a young college couple participating in the mating dance on the entry hall floor,” he laughs. “It was his parents’ home and he had just arrived from college with his girlfriend without his parents’ knowledge. My clients and I received quite a different showing than we were expecting!”


Jeremy Fain
Jeremy Fain

Jeremy Fain

Greenwood King Properties
713.677.4337 • [email protected]

Charity: Bering Omega Community Services

Jeremy Fain volunteers with several charities and organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and the Houston Tennis Club, but it’s Bering Omega Community Services (where he is president of the Young Professionals Board) where he feels he does the most good for the community.

“How could I not be passionate about these organizations and what they provide?” he asks. “Every aspect of these groups and every dollar that is donated is done so from a selfless place.”

He gets a thrill helping people find their homes—and a few chuckles. He recently helped a former partner sell a home and buy a new one. His entire office saw the client satisfaction survey that the man sent in.

“One of the questions on the survey asks how you came to work with the agent who represented you,” he recalls. “His answer was ‘The Realtor is my ex-lover.’ If you know who I’m talking about, you know how his sense of humor is cut, dry, and to the point. I just happened to walk by the office of the company owner the day his particular survey came through and she yelled… ’JEREMY! Get in here! Read this. It’s about time we got some spice in this office!’”


Lynette Lew
Lynette Lew

Lynette Lew

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate/Gary Greene Realty
713.582.2202 • [email protected]

Charity: Triumph Over Kid Cancer and The Sunshine Kids

“Triumph Over Kid Cancer and The Sunshine Kids are two of the charities that our brokerage has supported for many years,” says Lynette Lew proudly. “These children and their families are such an inspiration. Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate/Gary Greene was just recognized at our national convention with the Community Involvement Award.

“Triumph Over Kid Cancer raises money to help find a cure for cancers that attack children and teenagers,” she explains. “They have seen first-hand how cancer affects both the patients and their families. More importantly, they have seen that a simple thing like hope can raise you from all lows, and that hope is in the collaborative research for new treatments. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has agreed to match dollar for dollar all funds raised by TOKC for research in pediatric cancer.

“The Sunshine Kids is a nonprofit organization dedicated to children with cancer. They are committed to providing positive group activities and emotional support for young cancer patients. The Sunshine Kids provides a variety of programs and events, free of charge, for kids who are receiving cancer treatments in hospitals across North America.”

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate/Gary Greene is recognized as one of the top fundraising companies for The Sunshine Kids.


Bryan M. Beene
Bryan M. Beene

Bryan M. Beene

John Daugherty, Realtors
713.449.2050 • [email protected]

Charity: Reach Unlimited

Bryan Beene says: “I am currently involved with Reach Unlimited, which is a nonprofit organization that helps those with mental and intellectual disabilities live, learn, and earn. I’ve known the executive director, Kathi Schmidt, for a decade, and I believe in her vision and passion for their very special program.”

Being of service was strongly instilled in him growing up. Besides his charity work, he feels extremely lucky to have found a career where he can be of service.

“I take my clients’ needs personally, and it pays off when I know I was able to make buying or selling a really enjoyable experience,” he says. Although there was that one time he was showing a home and he and the client stumbled across a dancer’s pole in the middle of the living room.

“Luckily, my client had a sense of humor, and we had a big laugh at that one!”


Karen Derr
Karen Derr

Karen Derr

Karen Derr/Town and Country Properties
713.875.7050 • [email protected]

Charity: Garden Oaks Home and Garden Tour

Realtor Karen Derr loves neighborhoods; that’s why she supports the Garden Oaks Home and Garden Tour as well as Houston Heights Association charity auctions, S.N.A.P., and Houston Tomorrow.

“Neighborhoods are the building blocks of our city, and nothing can positively impact a neighborhood more than an organized and connected H.O.A. or civic association,” Derr says. “Even if the neighbors just meet monthly for a social event, that connectivity and those lines of communication will serve the community well when challenges do arise.”

She loves helping clients see the potential beauty in homes, as well as advising sellers about ways to make homes more attractive to buyers.

“When I owned a larger real-estate brokerage firm, I accompanied one of our young agents to an important meeting with a builder,” she says. “The builder had salvaged wood he wanted to use as trim in a project he would be listing with us, and he wanted to know our opinion as to what style trim might be popular with buyers. My nervous associate piped up that his favorite style was missionary style. I blushed and quickly suggested the builder go with a Craftsman-style trim.”


Richard Hill
Richard Hill

Richard Hill

Keller Williams Realty
713.863.9494 • [email protected]

Charity: Out for Education

Richard Hill was president of Out for Education for two years, helping provide scholarships for LGBT youth. “I strongly believe in this organization for many reasons,” Hill says. “To many, scholarships are the only means some have to an education. You never know someone’s story—they may have been kicked out of their home for being who they are, and even disenfranchised by their families. No one should ever be denied an education for those reasons.”

He finds true joy in aiding people with finding their dream home. “Being able to be a part of one of the biggest decisions of someone’s life is a rewarding feeling,” Hill says. “Getting to witness their true excitement and happiness is what keeps me passionate.”


Ryan Norris
Ryan Norris

Ryan Norris

iMortgage
832.489-8044 • [email protected]

Charity: multiple

“The cornerstone of the American dream is home ownership, and I get to help make that possible,” says Ryan Norris of his job at iMortgage. He knows it’s important for LGBT people to have real-estate professionals who understand their particular situation and its uniqueness, especially when purchasing a home with a partner in a state like Texas that doesn’t recognize gay marriage.

He also knows it’s important to give back to the community.

“Houston Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Lambda NextGen Houston, Human Rights Campaign, Texas A&M Association of Former Students,” he mentions the organizations he’s involved with. “My participation in these is varied between financial contributions and time commitments, and the organizations represent local, regional, and national interests. These organizations benefit not only my local community, but also my university and the greater LGBT community in the country. As a Texas A&M alumnus, it is especially important for me to give back to the university that provided so much experience and education for me.”


Richard Ray
Richard Ray

Richard Ray

John Daugherty Realtors
713.351.4674 • [email protected]

Charity: AIDS Foundation Houston

Richard Ray loves helping people. “There is no greater thrill than helping others purchase the home of their dreams or helping folks sell one of the largest and most important assets that they may ever own,” he says of his work. “How cool is that?”

But he is also very passionate about his work with AIDS Foundation Houston.

“AIDS Foundation Houston, Inc., provides prevention, support, and housing services to people who have the highest risk of being infected or affected by HIV/AIDS,” Ray explains. “The core of our work is to decrease the impact of HIV/AIDS in an individual’s life and in our community. I have been serving on the board of AIDS Foundation Houston for the past couple of years, and I am currently the board chair for 2014 and 2015.

“AFH is the only community organization in Houston whose sole focus is to prevent HIV and to serve the HIV community.”


Michael Caballero
Michael Caballero

Michael Caballero

Stewart Title
713.401.1850 • [email protected]

Charity: Homeless LGBT youth in Houston

Michael Caballero works in The Heights where home sales are exploding. “Every day is a new adventure, and I continue to learn,” he says. “Researching property history and reading the old deeds while preparing for a closing is like being a detective. Then sharing the excitement of the first-time homebuyer or the couple moving from their first home, and the lucky ones who are downsizing as they prepare to retire.”

He recently attended a meeting to discuss the issues and concerns of homeless LGBT youth in Houston. The meeting was both heartbreaking and uplifting. Heartbreaking, he says, to hear the stories and see the statistics, knowing that each number was actually a child in need. Uplifting because of all the men and women who attended and pledged their time and effort to solve this growing issue.

“I think few people had the perfect childhood while growing up,” Caballero says. “With that said, I had amazing parents who loved and encouraged me. According to the numbers provided at the initial meeting, over 40 percent of the children on the street were put out of their home. These children need to be given a chance to become our future.”


Calvin Upton
Calvin Upton
Tim Anthony
Tim Anthony

Tim Anthony and Calvin Upton

Anthony Upton Properties
832.722.690 • [email protected]

Charity: Bunnies on the Bayou

“We first sponsored Bunnies on the Bayou (BOTB) in 2014, and we are both proud and excited to be sponsoring them for a second consecutive year,” writes Tim Anthony. “We were very familiar with their successful 36 years of operation before coming on board as sponsors, and are even more excited to have the opportunity to work with them again this year. We see our partnership with BOTB as an asset, as their work in community education and LGBT awareness efforts closely aligns with our commitment to creating an inclusive Houston.”

Besides being involved with multiple LGBT charities, Anthony is passionate about real estate.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of selling real estate is seeing a happy client and strengthening the community that we live in and call home,” he adds. “Nothing defines success better than watching an individual or family start the next chapter of their lives in their new home.”


V.J. Tramonte
V.J. Tramonte

V.J. Tramonte

Joe Tramonte Realty
409-765-9837 • [email protected]

Charity: multiple

V.J. Tramonte, well known on Galveston Island, has many civic projects, including the Galveston Rotary Club, contributor to the AIDS Coalition of Coastal Texas, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and Galveston Meals on Wheels.

“We have all been affected by AIDS, cancer, heart attacks, and hunger in Galveston and elsewhere,” he says. “I just try to help where I can.”

Somehow he finds time to work at his passion as well. “I love meeting all kinds of people and showing the variety of lifestyles that Galveston has to offer—beach, canal, historic, new construction, mid-century, condominiums—we have it all!”

He remembers showing two gay clients condos, and they all got stuck in an elevator for two hours. “We became very good friends!” he says.


Jaden Nguyen
Jaden Nguyen

Jaden Nguyen

Coldwell Banker United, Realtors
713.304.7749 • [email protected]

Charity: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

“Growing up, my parents allowed me to be immersed in art by enrolling me in an art school. MFAH provides many art programs to children that inspire them to explore their creative expressions,” says Jaden Nguyen. “Art affects so many aspects of our lives, and MFAH preserves the history of art and inspires new visions of art from the new generations.”

He says he’s passionate about real estate because he views every home as a piece of art that shows the artistry and personality of its owner. “My appreciation of the beauty of each home helps me do my job well when I represent the seller or the buyer,” he says.

And then there was that time a seller sent him a list of upgrades she had done on her luxury home. “There was an item listed as ‘Wood shitters.’ I told her that I’m not familiar with that feature, but it sounds like it requires a lot of maintenance. She laughed and said she meant to say ‘Wood shutters.’ Her house sold quickly. I told her it was because of those beautiful ‘Wood shitters.’ I can sell a house with that feature all day long!”


Tim Surratt
Tim Surratt

Tim Surratt

Greenwood King
713.320.5881 • [email protected]

Charity: DePelchin Children’s Center and SEARCH Homeless Shelter

“As the proud father of two adopted kids, I like to help any organization for kids,” says Tim Surratt, who is also heavily involved with the Houston Association of Realtors. “I have homeless family members and believe in the mission of SEARCH,” Surratt says, “which helps stabilize, educate, and employ Houston’s homeless population.”

And he loves his work. “I absolutely love Houston because it is such a great city,” he says. “That makes it easy for me to be an ambassador and help people settle into our wonderful city by finding them a new home.”

As for any funny stories about his work, he’s coy. “Yes . . . but what happens in showings, stays in showings!”


Tom Schwenk
Tom Schwenk

Tom Schwenk

The House Company
713.857.2309 • [email protected]

Charity: multiple

Tom Schwenk is a very busy man when it comes to Galveston charities. He is currently a board member of the Downtown Partnership, the Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance, president of the Galveston Association of Realtors, a past president and treasurer of the San Jac Neighborhood Association, Islander by Choice Beach Revue, a major sponsor of the Chamber of Commerce, a Landmarks commissioner, past president and board member of the Galveston Historic Foundation, and House Chair for the GHF Annual Homes tour.

“They are all about making our community a better place to live,” Schwenk says. “I’m involved with all aspects of our city, from kids to pets to houses! Next up: becoming a mentor at Ball High.”

As for work, he has a fascinating story. “Last year I was the listing agent for identical houses on one lot that were sold to identical twins,” he says. “It ended up on an episode of House Hunters. Galveston is a diverse, accepting community, and when my husband Jack and I got married last year for our 30th anniversary, past homebuyers held a reception for us that was a heck of a lot of fun!”


Rance Helton
Rance Helton

Rance Helton 

Keller Williams
832.316.4896 • [email protected]

Charity: The Wounded Warriors Project

Rance Helton works in The Woodlands and loves real estate because “I love helping people achieve the dream of home ownership.” And he loves meeting people, plain and simple.

“I am passionate about supporting The Wounded Warriors Project,” Helton says. “I am a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and I also like to support Homes for Heroes because a lot of the everyday people in America are heroes on a daily basis. I am passionate about helping those who have given so much to have a home for their families.”


Donna Lafont
Donna Lafont

Donna Lafont

Georgetown Mortgage
832.381.8410 • [email protected]

Charity: Montgomery County Chapter Women’s Council of Realtors, and Homes for Texas Heroes

Donna Lafont has this to say about her charity passions: “I am a member of and volunteer with the Montgomery County Chapter Women’s Council of Realtors. We are a network of successful Realtors and real-estate professionals, advancing women as professionals and leaders in business, the industry, and the communities we serve. I also participate in the Homes for Texas Heroes program that helps provide downpayment assistance to firefighters, emergency medical technicians, veterans, law enforcement, teachers, and healthcare workers when buying, selling, renting, or refinancing a home.”

She loves helping people fulfill the dream of owning their own home, whether they are personal clients or clients at the Homes for Texas Heroes program. “The program allows me to provide the extra help that our heroes need to make their dream come true,” she says.


Robert M. Spiegel
Robert M. Spiegel

Robert M. Spiegel

Republic State Mortgage
713.961.5363 • [email protected]

Charity: multiple

Robert Spiegel is very passionate about his work. “I get to help people buy their largest investment—a very fulfilling job, as a home is usually the center of our lives, filled with memories and good times. Because my background is in finance, I also make sure my clients make smart decisions when it comes to buying and financing a home. My strategies help my clients increase their net worth, decrease debt, and prepare for retirement.

“GLBT clients, specifically same-sex couples, have different issues that need to be addressed when they are buying a home. I get to educate people about these differences. This is very fulfilling, as I hear regularly that my strategies saved clients from making mistakes that would have penalized them. As we all know, our state is not friendly to same-sex couples, and we are treated differently than opposite-sex marriages. This applies to our real-estate transactions, so we have to address the differences upfront. It is my honor to help our community navigate this process.”


Tim and Gail Schorre
Tim and Gail Schorre

Tim and Gail Schorre

Morningside Architects
713.529.2630 • [email protected]

Charity: SEARCH Homeless Services

SEARCH Homeless Services is just one of the charities Tim and Gail Schorre support. “We see so many people on the streets, and want to support an organization that can actually help them more than a handout on the street corner,” says Gail Schorre. The couple also supports the American Festival for the Arts (an organization that helps young area musicians connect and perform together, providing classes and camps during the summer) and the Houston Zen Center.

Schorre says the common element that these organizations have is that they’re addressing what is human about those they help.

The couple is also very avid about their business. “We are passionate about our work because, in a way, we try to do that same thing,” she says. “We address what is human about our clients and work to make buildings that can enhance those qualities.”

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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