The life of one young man in Oregon has touched so many and now his legacy has inspired real estate agents and brokers in New York to bring one of the simple joys of childhood to homeless kids – a birthday party.
Susan Hamblen, Broker/Owner, and the team at EXIT Realty Achieve in Smithtown, New York, attended EXIT Realty Corp. International’s annual convention last fall in The Bahamas and were moved to action by the keynote address of Rick DeLuca. It was DeLuca’s rise to real estate superstardom that brought him to EXIT’s stage but it was his personal story that inspired Hamblen.
“We learned that Rick had a foundation and were inspired to ask about its work,” said Hamblen. “We learned of its mission to provide birthday parties for homeless children and our hearts were stirred. I reached out to Rick in Oregon to learn more and to see how we could get involved. Rick introduced me to the memory of his son, Devin DeLuca, an extraordinary young man who had a love for homeless people and selflessly served them. Devin’s passion (cut short at the age of 23) is continuing now through the efforts of his father and family through the non-profit organization, Devin’s Destiny.”
Continuing the dialogue with DeLuca, it became apparent to Hamblen that the best way to create something meaningful was to start a similar work in New York to serve homeless children locally. In a New York minute, a board of directors was formed, mostly from among the impassioned real estate professionals at Hamblen’s EXIT Realty Achieve brokerage and Candles for Hope was born. The group applied for non-profit status and were granted 501C3 status in January of 2017.
“I began to share with our agent team the mission of Candles for Hope; to provide birthday parties for displaced children in our community. Many were inspired and immediately got involved with volunteer and financial support,” said Hamblen.
The coordinator of a local homeless shelter spread the word about Candles for Hope and under the mentorship of DeLuca the initiative took off, hosting its first three parties in January. Parents reach out to the organization and make a request for a party including the wish list of gifts for the child. Candles for Hope volunteers purchase the gifts and wrap them, arrange and fund the party. The gifts and decorations are delivered to the venue, “and then we disappear, just like Rick taught us. We don’t want the child to know that an organization is hosting their party. We want them to think their parent is doing this for them,” said Hamblen.
The local Chick-fil-A restaurant is the party venue. The party consists of meals, time on the playground, a visit from the Chick-fil-A cow, balloons and gifts, ice cream and cookies with candles. “The owner operator, Bryan Beasley, and catering manager, Christina Geist, are so helpful and supportive and make it easy for us to host the parties,” said Hamblen
In no time, word of Candles for Hope’s work spread over social media. Community business leaders like Jacqueline Sendra, loan officer at United Northern Mortgage Bankers and her business partner, Susan Borozan Belese, committed funds from each loan they close.
The organization’s kick-off fundraiser was held on March 21st and featured a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Willie Wonka theme. “We invited Rick DeLuca to be our guest and to speak at our event ,” said Hamblen. The event drew more than 200 guests for an evening of dinner, dancing and entertainment. Business sponsors made it possible for ticket sales and donations to be committed to funding birthday parties. DeLuca shared stories of homeless children in Oregon and what having a birthday party has meant to them. Phil Dupree, coordinator of the homeless shelter in Commack tearfully shared the impact Candles for Hope is having on the families and children at the shelter. “We honored the owners and the manager of Chick-fil-A for their help in our launch. We had a great party and even the Chick-fil-A cow made an appearance on the dance floor. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who want to be involved in our cause.”
The fundraiser was a huge success, with net proceeds exceeding $23,000 for the night with an additional $14,000 pledged and 25 more people who specifically committed to sponsor one party each (at a cost of $200). Chick-fil-A committed to donate food for one year of parties hosted at their location. “One of the most impactful moments of the night for me was the hug I shared with Rick DeLuca as the evening closed and the moment I could look him in the eye and tell him that Devin’s life was continuing to make an impact in the world,” said Hamblen.
Other EXIT Realty brokerages are getting on board with Candles for Hope. “In the weeks prior to our fund-raising event, Benny Diasparra, Broker of EXIT Realty Search, reached out to me about starting a chapter of Candles for Hope in the Bronx. We have been working with Benny and his team and are already taking steps to get this first chapter off the ground. After the event, two additional EXIT Broker/Owners reached out to me about how they can start chapters of Candles for Hope in their communities.”
Hamblen credits much of the success already achieved by Candles for Hope to the EXIT Realty Achieve Team, some of whom are now helping to lead the non-profit including Jeff Mistretta, Vice President, Elta Bergold, Secretary, Jason Furnari, Social Media Director and Terri Consey Affiliate Secretary. In addition, the assistance of Crislyn Jacob and Lauri Adams of the local community is much appreciated. .
“As Candles for Hope continues to grow and the vision of what it can become crystalizes for me, I’m reminded of the basic truth I’ve always known; people want to be a part of something good and something larger than themselves. EXIT Realty has been that for me. And now through the love and support of my EXIT family, Candles for Hope is also that bigger thing we can use to provide hope and light to families.”
For more information visit CandlesForHope.org or call Susan Hamblen at 631-543-2009.