By Kelly Putter
The word ‘extreme’ is thrown around a lot these days. There are extreme sports, extreme cheapskates and extreme home makeovers. There’s even extreme zip lining, yoga and pitas. This is the story of fundraising examples that could easily fall under the extreme category because these sales reps really and truly went above and beyond the normal call of duty.
In late November, Belleville, Ont. sales rep John-Ross Parks spent nearly six days and nights on a downtown rooftop to raise funds for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation after being moved to tears by the story of a young woman’s untimely death. The result? Parks raised $32,000. The money will benefit women’s shelters in and around Belleville.
Meanwhile, in Oakville, Ont. during the same month, Peter Kolisnyk shined a big spotlight on homelessness, managing to raise more than $21,000 by sleeping in a car for seven nights.
Both sales reps were moved to experience the same kind of struggles women and children in their respective communities know all too well. As such, each wanted to encounter a taste of what life is like on the streets.
“I’m a huge reality TV fan because it’s real people doing real things, so we had the camera going for 24 hours a day for six days while I was up there,” says 31-year-old Parks, a third-generation Realtor whose mother and grandmother, both Realtors, helped handle his practice while he was stationed on the roof. “There were times when it got very dramatic.”
Like the time a viewer shared with Parks a tragic tale of his girlfriend’s brutal murder or when Parks suddenly lost his audience thanks to the Internet service going down. Parks raised funds by allowing viewers to request whacky challenges such as getting a tattoo, singing karaoke, eating wet dog food, writing poems and shaving off his eyebrows.
As news of his exploits spread, his audience grew to thousands, some of whom donated $50 to $100 or more in some cases to watch him do an art project, colour his hair or allow him to use the bathroom for a much-needed pee break. Donations poured in from as far away as Alberta, Seattle and New York City.
Kolisnyk, 56, also used technology to get the word out about homelessness. Wrapped in a sleeping bag and fur-lined bomber hat, he spent seven nights from 7 pm to 7 am in an Infiniti parked less than 50 feet from the Queen Elizabeth Way expressway, which meant noise, lights, wind and frosty temperatures. He slept two to three hours each night and soon discovered the isolation and misery that goes with not having a warm bed of your own.
“We tend to take for granted how fortunate we are to have a fridge full of food, a bed to sleep in, little things in life that bring us comfort,” he says. “That’s the dichotomy of Oakville: there’s this belief that it’s very luxurious living here but we also have homelessness. It’s right here in plain sight.”
The sales rep, who is with Royal LePage Real Estate Services in Oakville, raised funds for Home Suite Hope, a Halton-based charity that helps re-establish single mothers and their children. Numerous supporters, including his 20-year-old son who brought hot chocolate pick-me-ups, visited him in the car during his weeklong stay. The fundraiser hit a high point when Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn dropped by to show his support.
The Fraser Institute says that Canadians aren’t nearly as generous as our American cousins when it comes to giving to charity. But that said, we’re taxed more heavily so we give regardless. Manitobans, it seems, come ahead regionally as the most generous province, while women are said to be more giving than men. When it comes to professions, identifying who gives more is pretty difficult to uncover. But if you’ve been working in the real estate industry for any length of time, you’d have to have your head in the sand not to see that it’s a generous lot.
According to CREA, the real estate industry raised nearly $20 million in 2015 for charities and good causes, and the industry has donated over $91 million to charity between 2012 and 2015. It now features a page on its website to showcase charitable endeavours.
“We give more per capita than any other profession,” says CREA’s Pierre Leduc. “We wanted to point that out with the revamp of our website. We wanted people to see that Realtors are productive members of the community who help with charities and are not just selling houses.”
Rain, snow and cold temperatures made for chilly nights, frozen water bottles and exhaustion but that wouldn’t deter Parks or Kolisnyk from doing their fundraisers again. In fact, it looks like both have plans to broaden their efforts this year.
Parks, who is with Royal LePage ProAllaince Realty, has already expanded his icanrebuild.com campaign to include merchandise sales and is hoping to offer inspirational talks on fundraising. He’s planning a “twisted” garden party to raise funds and has earmarked $50,000 as his goal for his participation in Royal LePage’s charity trek to Iceland this summer.
Kolisnyk is eying Sept. 23 for his next event. He’s planning to stage a mass sleep-in-your-car, one-night event with 100 Halton area car owners each raising $1,000 for a grand total of $100,000.
As for using his good works to leverage clients, don’t even go there, says Kolisnyk.
“One thing really has nothing to do with other,” he says. “I’m doing this because this is what I want to do with my free time. Because of what I’m fundraising for, I think it would be in poor taste to use them as a calling card to say you need to hire me. I do this because I support the cause and believe in the cause.”
Parks isn’t sure whether or not his rooftop fundraiser has helped or hurt his real estate practice. For him, the big takeaways from the experience centre on grasping how privileged his life is and realizing the wonder and goodness that exists in everyday people.
“My faith in people was really restored and people are pretty powerful especially when you attach the Internet to them,” says Parks. “I’m definitely a much nicer person because of it.”