By Donald Wittkowski
Natalie Stetser has volunteered to clean up and paint schools in Peru and Costa Rica. She has helped to protect the environmentally sensitive Galapagos Islands by removing an invasive species of bush. And she has pitched in to clean cages and care for the animals at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Ecuador.
On Thursday, she was volunteering her services again. But this time, she was helping out in her hometown.
Rake in hand, Stetser was cleaning up the grounds at the United Methodist Church in Sea Isle City, along with her fellow employees from the real estate group Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors and the Trident Group, during the company’s annual Community Service Day.
“It makes me feel good,” Stetser said. “If I’m able to give back by volunteering my services at a church or somewhere else in the community, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Stetser’s spirit of volunteerism was honed when she formerly worked at Wildness Adventures, an outdoor adventure company that sent its employees to help out in ecologically fragile places such Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
She now works as a sales agent for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors in Sea Isle. The company has its own volunteer program to lend a hand to churches, food banks, daycare centers and other community hubs in some of the towns and cities where its offices are located, including Sea Isle.
Now in its 23rd year, the company’s Community Service Day on Thursday involved more than 60 real estate offices. Nearly 20 sales agents from the Sea Isle office helped to beautify the grounds of the United Methodist Church and also collected food for local needy families.
“They want to give back to the community. They have been blessed with the level of business they have had in this town,” Carol Hopely Russo, vice president and head of the Sea Isle office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors, said of the sales agents
The sales agents and other company employees also make donations to the Fox & Roach Charities. Over the years, more than $6 million has been donated to help out 250 nonprofit organizations in the tri-state area and the Lehigh Valley, according to company literature.
Donations collected at the Sea Isle office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors will benefit Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism advocacy group, Hopely Russo said. She estimated it would be around $1,500.
Community Service Day is one in a series of special events and projects organized by the company and the employees each year to show their commitment to the areas they serve, Hopely Russo noted.
“It’s a legacy of giving back,” she said.
Employees in the Sea Isle office spent a sun-splashed fall day pulling weeds, raking leaves and doing other cleanup work at United Methodist Church. United Methodist’s groundskeeper is recovering from knee surgery, so they were happy to help out, they said.
“This makes me feel great, because the church gives back so much to the community and now we’re giving back to the church,” said sales agent Amy Lombardo, who lives in Strathmere. “If I can give back to the church on a beautiful day like this, I’m all for it.”
Lombardo credits her mother, Annette Lombardo, the chairwoman of the Sea Isle City Environmental Commission, for teaching her the value of volunteerism.
“My mom definitely influenced me,” Lombardo said as she took a break from removing weeds on the church grounds.
United Methodist’s pastor, Melissa Doyle-Waid, also works as a sales agent for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors.
Hopely Russo said the real estate office uses Community Service Day to help build up the church’s food pantry for needy families in Sea Isle. On Thursday, baskets of donated food filled up a table in her office.
Although it is an upscale resort town featuring multimillion-dollar beachfront homes, Sea Isle also has families that struggle financially and can’t always afford to buy food, Hopely Russo said.
The food baskets donated during Community Service Day will help out those families.
“They can make ends meet as far as paying their bills, but they don’t have anything left for food,” Hopely Russo said.