Boston – At the inaugural Greater Boston Real Estate Board/uAspire Foundation Scholarship Fund Leadership Breakfast held at the Intercontinental Hotel on Wednesday, commercial real estate luminaries Robert P. Beal and Kevin Phelan were honored and Mayor Walsh gave an inspiring keynote about the importance of pursuing one’s dreams, but what the event was really about, for and by – was the kids. Hosted by Stephanie Grace and Niki Pelari, two students who were 2013 recipients of GBREB scholarship funding and are now entering their junior years of college, the lion's share of the breakfast program put the focus where the organizers, honorees and the Mayor knew it belonged – on the students and their stories. That sentiment was summed up by Pelari in his opening remarks.
"We're here today to celebrate two incredible industry leaders, Robert Beal and Kevin Phelan,"Pelari told the 285-person gathering, "but most importantly, we're here to celebrate the next generation of Robert Beals and Kevin Phelans – this year's scholarship fund recipients."
"So, I thank you for helping me – and every student who has crossed this stage – have that chance."
The breakfast featured a scholarship awardee at each of the sponsored tables, and a number of the students shared their accounts of life struggles and why higher education will help break the cycle of poverty. Pelari, who came to this country at the age of three from Albania with his parents and grew up in South Boston’s D Street projects, related how he overcame multiple hardships, and included a story of how he filled out his parent’s tax returns at the age of 14 because they did not speak English. He worked with uAspire, was granted a GBREB Scholarship, went to Holy Cross two years ago and is now enrolled in Columbia University’s engineering school.
Grace was born into poverty, became homeless for two years during high school, and had a brother who became involved in gang violence, so she became her parents’ only hope. After working with uAspire and receiving the GBREB scholarship, she is now a junior at Brigham Young University with a major is public health and a goal of working with the CDC. "Because of your kind donations, you have created an opportunity for future leaders, innovators, doctors, scientists and much more that, can change the world for the better," Grace told the audience. "So, I thank you for helping me – and every student who has crossed this stage – have that chance."
Event chair Mahmood Malihi, co-President of Leggat McCall Properties, shared a story that was very similar to the student’s narratives. "When my family and I came to the United States in the 70's, my path through Tufts University never would have happened without the assistance of financial aid and other supports to close the financial gap," said Malihi. "And, without this degree, my whole life trajectory may have been very different."
GBREB CEO Greg Vasil later announced that the GBREB Foundation is making a $1 million commitment over the next four years to launch the GBREB College to Career initiative in partnership with uAspire. In addition to the increased scholarship funding, the initiative increases support for uAspire to provide free financial aid advising services to 11,000 students and families across Massachusetts each year, and also includes the launch of a paid summer internship program for recipients of the GBREB Foundation Scholarship to help students consider future careers in the real estate industry. To date, Colliers International, WinnCompanies and Leggat McCall have offered internships, and Vasil said he is speaking with other companies who may come on board.
"In the real estate industry, we like to make wise investments with our capital," Vasil told The Real Reporter following the breakfast. "And we see investing in the youth and our future leaders – potentially in the real estate industry – as being an incredibly wise investment." That investment swelled to a total of $210,000 for the event, following an additional $15,000 raised during the breakfast.
Thomas Hynes, Colliers International co-chairman and CEO, presented Phelan and Beal with their awards, with Phelan, also co-chairman of Colliers International, receiving the "First One" Award, given annually by uAspire to community leaders who were the first in their family to earn a college degree; and Beal, president of Related Beal, the uAspire Visionary Award for his early work related to college access for students and for helping to found the nonprofit uAspire. "It would be hard to find a duo who have raised so much money for so many different causes," Hynes observed.
Hynes encapsulated Phelan’s prolific philanthropic fundraising work by saying, "the organizations just go on page after page" before singling out three groups in which he has played an especially significant role: The Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston (former president and current board member); the United Way Real Estate Breakfast (co-founder with the late Edwin Sidman) which has raised $30 million to date; and The Breakfast Group, a consortium of political and business leaders which has been meeting bi-monthly for 30 years (founder).
Upon accepting the honor, Phelan recounted how, due to his lackadaisical approach to his studies in high school, his guidance counselor recommended to his parents that he go to work in a factory. "Which gave me a kick in the butt to get going," he recalled. He also impressed upon the students the importance of having mentors. "I’ve had some fun with the non-profits in Boston, but I think the greatest pleasure I have is mentoring young people…so take advantage of the elders. This city is yours someday, we’re only doing this temporarily."
Hynes described the list of organizations that Beal has contributed to as "an alphabet soup," beginning with ABC, (A Better City, formerly Artery Business Committee) which he co-founded, to Zoo New England, for which he serves on the Board of Directors and is the Nature’s Neighborhoods Capital Campaign Chair. Beal was also one of the original business leaders who in 1985 made a founding investment into ACCESS (which became uAspire in 2012). "Robert is a relentless fundraiser," said Hynes, who prompted Beal to remind the audience that the middle initial "P" in his name stands for "Pickpocket", which drew a big laugh.
"I want to congratulate all of the students today, because what the Real Estate Board is doing with uAspire to help students move on and go to college is so important," said Beal. "And it’s also important that we’re all involved in trying to help."