Priority Real Estate Group is committed to developing the community — and not just through commercial real estate.
Jim Howard, chief executive officer of the Topsham-based commercial real estate investment and development company, asked representatives from 11 local nonprofit organizations to have coffee with him on a recent Friday at the Priority Business Center. They didn’t know why, though.
Howard soon answered that, speaking to the gathered audience from a podium in a conference room at the company’s headquarters.
“Over a decade ago, we made a commitment that our efforts to create economic development should also create and support community development,” he said. “As a company, our measurement of success is based not only on the money we make but what we do with the money that we make.”
In his view, Howard said, community success is also judged in how it supports and helps its most needy.
“It’s not just the money that organizations and people give that matter,” he said. “It’s the time and energy that you guys put in to help everybody that you help every day.
“You fill the bellies of the hungry, you give a safe and warm bed to the homeless, providing a gathering place for people to hang out, provide guidance and structure for kids, you warm people’s homes, and you do it all with limited resources,” added Howard. “So you’re certainly the fabric of our community as far as we’re concerned.”
And then he handed out $2,500 checks to each organization — a total of $30,000.
Wendy Van Damme, executive director of Cathance River Education Alliance, said the donation is very significant. She said it comes at a good time, as CREA is assessing where it is at and what it might be able to plan for this year to grow and become a stronger organization. There were more than 3,000 participants in programs during 2017, allowing people of all ages to connect with — and learn in and about — nature.
The donation to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program will help take it beyond the holidays to be able to purchase food through January and February. MCHPP’s Karen Parker, the executive director, said the organization has seen a 10 percent increase in need since June.
While she intellectually knows the truth behind Howard’s works, Parker said, “To have someone in the community say it out loud to a group of people not in our own circles — to me that was the greater gift. It was just that validation that people are paying attention. People care and that is so important.”
Laura Larson, executive director of Family Focus, said the donation is very welcome. These are groups that need support, she said, and most are competing for the same grants, which have grown very competitive — at a time when nonprofits have
such limited budgets.
Family Focus provides child care and educational service for children between the ages of 6 weeks to 12 years.
“We provide food in all of our programs, which is a very big cost for us,” Larson said.
Family Focus has three early learning centers in Brunswick, and six before-and-after-school programs that take place at the Hawthorne School in Brunswick, Williams-Cone School and Woodside Elementary School in Topsham, Bowdoin Central School, Bowdoinham Community School and Harpswell Community School.
The organization also recently opened an inclusive classroom at Brunswick Landing, where it provides specially designed instruction with a 3-to-1 ratio for children with identified individualized education programs with specific goals on which to work.
Howard’s surprise check give-away also provided the organizations an opportunity to sit down and talk about ways to try to combine resources and make their tight budgets go further.
“Thank you all for the work that you do, and Merry Christmas,” Howard said at the mid-December gathering.
Also receiving $2,500 checks were Bowdoinham Food Pantry, Brunswick Teen Center, Habitat for Humanity, Lisbon Area Christian Outreach Pantry, Seeds of Independence, Tedford Shelter, Gathering Place and Topsham Heating Assistance Program.