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Ultimate Feel-Good Story: Giving an LI Veteran a Home

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Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation Serves Those Who Serve, IDS Members Pay it Forward, LIBOR and NARI are All On Board Thank You to ALL Who Made This Happen!

We were first introduced to this endeavor to purchase and remodel a house in order to give it, mortgage-free, to a post-9/11 Purple Heart recipient by Rosemarie Kluepfel of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. and Daphna Adler of Interiors by Daphna Adler at a SCWBEC (Suffolk County Women’s Business Enterprise Coalition) meeting. We’ve mentioned it more than twice over the last year and a half, and have become fully enamored with the merry band of designers, remodelers and others who have given so much to make this happen.

Most of the quotes here come from a pre-gifting gathering at the house featuring many who had participated. A few others come from the day they actually got to see the winning veteran’s face and give him a hug. They’ve endeavored to thank the many involved here. To say they were uplifted by the process, despite every challenge, is an understatement

The Fairway Foundation started on this project five years ago. It took over two years to identify and purchase the house. They enlisted the Long Island Interior Design Society (IDS LI) and their “Pay It Forward East” campaign. to brighten the place up a bit. Several of them were also members of the NYC/Long Island branch of National Association of Remodeling Industries (NARI). They started getting a little more ambitious, and that group came on as a full-fledged partner. The donations of expertise, elbow grease and materials began to snowball.

“The fundraising. What a miracle!” said Steve Probst of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. “The $150,000+ that it took just to buy the house, including the closing costs and everything, had our Foundation pretty much tapped out. Then these comedians and bands stepped up to perform for free at fundraising concerts for our Purple Heart Campaign. That, together with so many suppliers and designers and builders and other professionals donating so much are really what made this happen.” 

“This was a total collaboration of IDS members coming together to work with the Fairway Foundation,” said Joe Calise of Sights-N-Sounds, President of IDS LI. “Others jumped in, all coming together for this wonderful cause. We needed contractors. A lot of our members are also members of NARI, so it was natural for us to ask them. They stepped up in a big way. It was great!”

Lisa Aiello of Rich Designs noted that, “I think this project is so successful because everyone managed to check their egos at the door, making it that much easier to work cohesively together.”

“We renovated this house from top to bottom. There’s well over $100,000 worth of renovation work in here.” said John Probst, Steve’s son, who happens to be a builder.

“Coastal Cabinet, Plessers Appliances and the charitable arm of NARI probably donated about $15,000 in labor alone,” said Eric Vogel of Coastal Cabinet Works, “Sheetrocking, doing the bathroom and the whole kitchen…. The leadership did a great job of rallying our troops to serve this veteran.”

“The volunteers were fantastic. For example, an electrician named Gabe put countless hours into this. He is just an incredible young man. I feel so blessed to have met him. I’m glad he and my son are now good friends,” said Steve Probst, adding, “This is great to be able to do this for this veteran. I’ve got to say, though, it’s had a big impact on all of us, too. It’s an amazing thing. We’ve gotten so much out of this.”

(This in particular, really tickles Trudy and I because it was one of YOU dear readers – an incredible asset to LI in his own right — who tapped Gabe Lissy on the shoulder to see if he might like to get involved. Thank you, Jon!!!)

 “This whole thing took on a life of its own,” said Steve, “It was an amazing journey that I don’t think anyone could foresee. The amount of people stepping up and their level of generosity was just incredible. In some cases we didn’t even have to ask – One guy called me up, Dan from North Carolina, said he was sending his brother over to install a six zone sprinkler system!” 

Another volunteer from IDS tugged our arm and pulled us over to a group that included Lisa Aiello of Rich Designs, Dee Manicone of D. Manicone Designs, and Sandra Asdourian of Sandra Asdourian Interiors, “Look at these draperies! Kravet Fabrics donated all the fabrics! Then we had three suppliers do a ton of sewing for us. These curtains here are so well made, beautifully lined. It’s just so nice!”

“As a collaborative effort by designers from different places, we had a very eclectic collection of people who donated,” another of the three reflected, “Things came in from everywhere. I mean, we had a creative team of designers, but we really weren’t sure how we were going to make such a random variety of stuff work. It’s really remarkable how it all just fit!”

“All different pieces, odds and ends, really,” echoed Isabel Melo, Interior Designer and IDS member, “and it all WORKED. It’s such a feel-good project. I love how we all worked together for the same cause. WE DID IT!!!”

Yes, said Dee Manicone, “The real beauty of this project is the dedication and excitement of the entire team, who worked together and created the energy that you feel here. There are 100 people on that sign out there, and I’m still getting names to add!”

As we walked through the house, John Probst led us into one of the bedrooms, “This is a great project. Our whole family has been involved. My 8-year old son John helped me install the molding in this bedroom. I was grateful to be able to help – wish I could have done more!”

“What a great team effort. The gift baskets make me so happy,” said Sandra, referring to wrapped goodies on the two beds, “We’d tell somebody what we were working on and they’d just want to help.”

“This is a life changing gift,” said Dee, “We’re giving this veteran a start that would take years to accomplish. We’re getting to help him catapult 10-15 years ahead. We’re really happy to be able to give him this leg up.”

It wasn’t always easy. Some said it was impossible. They refused to be deterred.

“Everyone said it couldn’t be done. Today is proof that it could be done,” said Lisa Aiello of Rich designs.

Said Sandra Asdourian, “When a group of people have a common goal, anything is possible!”

“This was probably one of the best projects I’ve worked on with other designers,” Said Peggy Guerrin of Designs by Peggy, who worked closely with Ruth Seidenberg of Ruth S. Interiors, another committee member, “Then there were the industry partners, and the suppliers. When we asked them – especially when we told them it would benefit a veteran – they were so generous. We all came together to make this happen and we can’t wait to see the veteran and his reaction when he gets those keys!”

By the time we caught up with everyone in mid-June, 30-year old Marine Veteran, Kevin Palacios, had already been selected from dozens of applicants. He did two tours in Afghanistan, suffering the impacts of IED blasts twice. He has faced a lot, but has also endeavored mightily to get his civilian life in order. His main priority now is to be a good father to his two-year old son.

“I am so happy we have selected this particular veteran to give this home to,” said Sandra Asdourian, “The color of one of the rooms is Dignity Blue. Long before we chose this particular recipient, we chose this color, and I was always hoping there might be son to live here.”

The process to award the home, like the endeavor to build the house itself, was exceptionally thoughtful. Palacios knew he was a finalist, but didn’t think the award was going to occur until the 4th of July. He thought he was coming with fellow finalists for a last interview, serving on a panel explaining challenges returning veterans face, particularly when it comes to achieving home ownership.

It happened on June 25th. The setting was a Continuing Education accredited course designed to help Realtors serve veterans. It was hosted by Fairway Independent Mortgage and held at Brookhaven Town Hall. They brought in a talented National Trainer named Terri Murphy who also did an excellent job of emphasizing to attending veterans how much compassion, care and understanding a broker can bring to these unique clients, on and beyond simply understanding the technical process of VA loans. Steve Probst, a former national speaker himself who has clearly taken his leadership training seriously, chimed in at key moments with important information, including his own moving “Why” that makes him so dedicated to serving those who serve.

“This is what we work for as realtors,” said LI Board of Realtors (LIBOR) President Diane Scalza, ”It’s the American Dream to be able to have your own home. Look at what we accomplished today!

By the time they got around to bringing up the finalists, some folks’ eyes were already getting misty. Among the panelists brought up was a gentleman who had helped Kevin Palacios get a job, and another who had guided him through his higher education. He still didn’t seem to realize – or maybe didn’t dare to believe – what was happening. They showed a brief slideshow documenting the rebuild, and then handed Kevin the key. Far from the only one crying, he immediately went to go hug his mom.

Said his father, “Thank you. What a surprise. We are very thankful for everything.”

Later, still shocked but able to get his breath for a moment, Palacios reflected, “I just kept telling myself, ‘Don’t get your hopes up. Just go with it.’ I told myself I was just part of a panel, and then, out of nowhere, they said it.”

“What do I want to say?” he continued, “That this is for my son, Noel.”

“People think of New York as being impersonal,” reflected Terri Murphy, whose own home is Chicago, “but, you know, this was a flat-out, 5-year, full community demonstration of the heart of New York. You guys are unstoppable and limitless. What a way to show it!”

“When do you have the opportunity to thank a vet for his service in person and really give back something so meaningful to them?” asked Wendy Lepkoff of Wendy Interiors, Board Member of NARI and Vice President of the IDS Virtual Chapter, “That’s why I jumped. It’s not just money. It’s a mortgage free, decorated home.”

“I’m actually new to IDS,” reflected Sandra, “I joined in May 2018. At the first meeting I attended they talked about his project. I have three brothers and a dad who are each veterans. Two of them are career veterans, who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War. I have heard so much about what it’s like to have to constantly move from base to base, and about the things they see. When I heard this guy was a Purple Heart recipient, I was so in to help, especially because if something like that ever happened to one of my family members, this is what I’d hope would happen to them.”

“Personally,” said Peggy, “I’m happy to be able to give back to someone who gave so much for my family.”

Eric Vogel agreed, “Working with Coastal Cabinet Works as well as NARI and IDS enabled Coastal Cabinet Works and me the ability to give back, which is what it’s all about.”

John Hogan, past President and current Treasurer of NARI NYC/LI reflected on this, “As NARI Community Service Chairman, I have learned that our members and most people in our industry want to be charitable with their time and pocket books, and appreciate a push in the right direction. We prefer to work with credible organizations, so we know the people in need have been well vetted. In the last few years we have helped major renovations with Fairway Mortgage, Habitat for Humanity, Long Island Harvest, Make a Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House. I spend many weekends and nights, sometimes with dozens of NARI members, planning these projects. After a week of dealing with my customers, spending the weekend working for a great cause makes me feel great. I sleep better knowing I made a difference.”

John is grateful to his company, Boston Cedar / US Lumber, for their donations and endorsement of his work on these projects, including his service on the Habitat For Humanity Suffolk County Board of directors.

Diane Scalza of the LI Board of Realtors added, “This is our 13th year as, basically, a group of realtors representing over 28,000 members, and I don’t know if people realize how much we give back. Each year we pick different projects and outreach campaigns to get behind. We’ve worked with Habitat for Humanity, Island Harvest, the Brooklyn Council of Churches. We’ve collected over 100,000 lbs of food to distribute to local food pantries. This, with Fairway Mortgage, has been very special. Today makes me really proud to be a realtor.”

Said Dean Camastro from HansGrohe, Vice President of IDS LI and NARI member, who with Dee Manicone, IDS LI Pay It Forward Committee chair, Steve Probst and Rosemarie Kluepfel of Fairway Independent Mortgage served to lead the endeavor, “It’s been a great project that’s really taken on a life of its own. This was just supposed to be a basic remodel, some paint and stuff. It became so much more.”

“This is a house. Through the generosity of the Long Island Community, we made it a home,” said Rosemarie Kluepfel, “This project benefits this veteran tremendously. It benefits his family. It’s good for the community. The ripple effect is tremendous.”

We are grateful.