When a handful of friends in the Long Island real estate industry got together 17 years ago, they couldn’t have imagined the impact they would make in so many local communities.
Sure, their development projects spurred economic growth, created thousands of jobs and provided needed places to live, but the members of the Long Island Real Estate Group have also gone a long way towards supporting the area’s nonprofits, establishing their own unique way of giving back.
Initially founded in 2005 by developer David Einbinder, attorneys Sam Yedid and Art Feldman, CPA Michael Alderson and Richard Cohn, owner of a property management firm, the coterie of cronies from the real estate world was almost dubbed the “Buddy Wuddy Group,” before they settled on the more apropos moniker of Long Island Real Estate Group.
While starting out as a small networking group, the five friends also sought to serve as a charitable vehicle.
“We wanted to donate to charities that had real estate needs,” said Einbinder, a principal of Hauppauge-based First Development Corporation. “In the beginning, it was hard for us to even raise five grand.”
Needless to say, LIREG, as most refer to the organization, has since grown by leaps and bounds. Now, with a membership of around 300, the group recently surpassed the $2.2 million mark in donations with nearly 60 local nonprofits on the receiving end.
“We’ve donated to some big organizations, but some of the ones we’re most proud of are the smaller organizations that struggled in getting support from the business community,” said Sean Cronin, LIREG co-president and partner in the Mineola-based law firm Cronin & Cronin. “One of the most inspiring and refreshing things is to see how important it is to board members that the money goes to organizations that need it and would benefit from it the most.”
Unlike the more generic generosity of charity benefactors, LIREG’s giving strategy is unique in that it targets specific real estate-related projects for area nonprofits, such as building and systems improvements.
“The funds are used for projects that benefit the organization’s mission, going towards something as specific as a new HVAC system,” said Alison Brennan, LIREG co-president and CEO of First Development Corp.
That’s exactly the aim of September’s LIREG gift of $30,000 to Family and Children’s Association (FCA), which will pay for new air conditioning units for a house the nonprofit operates for young people in Freeport called Walkabout.
“We use it as a house to prepare young people to live independently and return to their families,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, FCA’s president and CEO. “It’s a beautiful house, but it was built in 1920. The government funding that we get to support residential programs like that doesn’t cover the cost of even operating the house, but it also doesn’t support the cost of doing regular upgrades or maintenance or anything else like that. So, we asked LIREG to help us buy new air conditioning units and make sure that the HVAC system is solid, and the ventilation is running the right way.”
Another recent LIREG beneficiary is Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE), which was awarded $45,000 towards a new structure at its 14.5-acre Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island.
“We have a day program there that serves about 100 people, and they engage in activities on the ranch, and they can interact with the horses and animals. We had a lot of underutilized space where people could gather and enjoy the property, so LIREG gave us the opportunity to request funding to do a structure out there,” said Susan Sorrentino, FREE’s chief administrative officer. “We also work with nonprofits that run camps for kids that have some illnesses. FREE works with those groups so that they can use the property as well. So that’s another whole group of people who can benefit from that, be out on the ranch and have a really nice area to sit and take in the views and relax.”
Sorrentino added that LIREG “really wants to partner with the community” by working with organizations seeking donations.
“For us, it’s not always easy to write an application and be awarded $45,000, so we’re very grateful,” she said.
Each year, LIREG donates between $150,000 to $250,000 to deserving local nonprofits, with individual grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. The effort is currently overseen by Peter Shapero, a principal of The Signature B&B Companies, and Andrew Richards, partner of the Kaufman Dolowich Voluck law firm, both co-chairs of LIREG’s Charity Committee and members of its executive board.
LIREG actively seeks out nonprofit beneficiaries for its charitable giving, often getting recommendations from members on where money should go.
“We put it out to the world and every year we get at least 30 organizations requesting support,” Einbinder said.
However, LIREG does almost no fundraising, save for its annual golf outing at the Glen Head Country Club. Instead, most of the money for its donations comes from members and their companies, and the developer-heavy organization’s executive board, which reads like a who’s who of the area’s biggest names in the real estate industry.
Firms with representation on the LIREG board include Engel Burman, Breslin Realty Development, Louis Lefkowitz Realty, Cosentino Realty Group, T. Weiss Realty, Gitto Group, Harvest Real Estate Services, Cord Meyer Development Company, Kabro Associates and many more.
“The board is a great mix of real estate professionals, developers, owners and others. All are very much aligned in this mission to give back to the community by way of investment in charities specific to real estate-focused projects,” said Scott Burman, a LIREG past-president.
Besides being a member of the LIREG executive board, Burman is also chairman of the board of the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City, which received a LIREG donation to help beautify its theater.
“The museum relies on private money to operate, since the admission and membership fees don’t cover the costs,” Burman said. “We have to raise money to keep things going year to year. Our annual Cupcakes & Cocktails event raises most of it, but we have continuously applied for grants and it’s a constant endeavor to raise money to keep the place going.”
Grant money notwithstanding, LIREG also gives back by sharing its accomplished members’ experience and expertise. Every semester, its members help teach an accredited course with Professor Ashira Ostrow at the Maurice A. Dean School of Law at Hofstra University that covers all aspects of the real estate development process.
“LIREG and its members have been generous supporters, mentors and role models for our students. The Real Estate Development Seminar plays a crucial role in preparing our students to serve the needs of their future clients,” said Gail Prudenti, Hofstra Law’s dean. “The collaboration with LIREG is unique in that it brings together law students and real estate professionals and extends learning beyond the classroom through real-world site visits.”
Like other industry organizations, LIREG also holds events throughout the year to keep its membership up to date on issues affecting the real estate business here.
“We’re very proud of how we navigated COVID and even held events outdoors throughout the pandemic to continue to grow and provide opportunities to our membership,” Cronin said. “LIREG is unique in that it doesn’t have a political agenda; however the group has been at the forefront of providing information and having informed discussion of issues that impact the entire region.”
And while those informational and networking events add value to its membership, Brennan says the organization’s goal is to get things done.
“It’s about action,” she said. “Our executive board and our members are investing their time and money into inspiring the Long Island community as a whole.”
In fact, Einbinder says LIREG’s mission can be summed up with this quote attributed to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, which is often displayed at its events:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
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