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If I Had a Hammer……

By: Louise Rush

Pretty much everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity, if only in a “oh, those are the guys that build houses” sort of way. For a few years, starting back in 2010, we at Levitt-Fuirst would have a “team building” event in the summertime. We would close the office, and spend the day learning how to work better together through a series of lectures and games designed to challenge us to work effectively AND together to achieve a goal, plus have a pretty yummy lunch in the middle of it.. For example, everyone would line up together and have to pass a small bucket of water backwards over their head to the person behind them in order to fill up a larger bucket at the end. I learned several things from this exercise….among them that I absolutely cannot pass a small bucket of water backwards over my head without dropping 90% of it on my head, that I become progressively more useless in direct proportion to the amount of water on my head, and that some people are so competitive that they scream at you for dropping water on your head and MAYBE THEY SHOULD REALIZE THAT THIS IS A TEAM BUILDING EVENT AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LEARNING TO WORK TOGETHER AND GET OFF MY BACK!!!! Anyway…back to Habitat for Humanity. Last year, Ken Fuirst and Jason Schiciano, our stalwart leaders and come-uppers of ideas, decided to give back to the community where we house our offices and donate time and money to Habitat for Humanity, in lieu of our summer team building event. Some of the office was excited, some raised eyebrows, some said “No way”. I was among the excited – I was going to house the world and learn to build things and go off into the woods and construct my very own mansion made of trees that I had felled and furnish it with handcrafted pieces….well, you get the idea. I was on board!! Big time!!

So, Jim, the leader of Habitat for us, came to our office. Jim is a whirlwind….passionate about what he does, talks so fast and so frenetically that sometimes you can only stand there with your mouth open and watch him pace and talk and love what he does. Jim is a believer. And we set up the dates that we would be working on the houses, learned who we would be building for (2 families of Iraq war veterans), and learned a bit about the behind the scenes process of having a house built for you. A common misconception is that these houses are given to people. Not so – there is a fairly arduous application process, you must have a job, you must be able to pay for the house, you must be responsible with it. You have to put in a ton of hours on your own house, plus contribute hours to other Habitat builds. I highly suggest going to their website and wandering through it. You will be inspired. They are all about giving a leg up to people. Part of their mission statement reads as follows:

· Advocate for affordable housing. In response to the prophet Micah’s call to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, we promote decent, affordable housing for all, and we support the global community’s commitment to housing as a basic human right. We will advocate for just and fair housing policy to eliminate the constraints that contribute to poverty housing. And, in all of our work, we will seek to put shelter on hearts and minds in such powerful ways that poverty housing becomes socially, politically and religiously unacceptable.
· Promote dignity and hope. We believe that no one lives in dignity until everyone can live in dignity. We believe that every person has something to contribute and something to gain from creating communities in which all people have decent, affordable places to live. We believe that dignity and hope are best achieved through equitable, accountable partnerships.
· Support sustainable and transformational development. We view our work as successful when it transforms lives and promotes positive and lasting social, economic and spiritual change within a community; when it is based on mutual trust and fully shared accomplishment; and when it demonstrates responsible stewardship of all resources entrusted to us.

Although they are, at heart, a Christian organization, there is no discrimination based on religious beliefs. They want to build houses, for people that need them. That simple.

So, we arrive at the worksite on High Street in Yonkers on Day One, excited and a little uncertain what we would be doing. And we worked….oh my goodness….we worked. I tore down walls, and hauled wood and poured cement and got  dusty and dirty and it was exhausting. This is not “fun” work, this is not “let’s give the people that work in an office a small taste of building”. This is down and dirty building a house….well, in our case, on that first day it was down and dirty demolishing a house so that we could get to the building part. We are insurance people…..give us a high end home in Chappaqua, Irvington or Bedford and we can insure the heck out of it. We even know how to insure it as you are building it. We have a whole dept. dedicated to insuring businesses that construct things, and a whole dept. dedicated to insuring what is built (2 actually, commercial and personal).What we didn’t know was HOW to build it. But we learned. There are several pros on-site that work for Habitat, and anything that you want to learn how to do, they show you. Anything that you are comfortable with, you can do. Not comfortable with building? You can garden. Any and everything that you contribute to making this house habitable and a home is welcomed and appreciated and so, so satisfying. I went home that first day more exhausted and filthy than I have ever been, but with this amazing sense of accomplishment. I went back to the site and worked every chance I got. I hammered, hauled junk, climbed ladders…everything I wanted to do I was taught to do. This year, Ken and Jason again decided to make the contribution of time and money to Habitat, and those of us that went back got to put the finishing touches on the house that we had started last year. We got the meet the family that would be moving in.

It is hard to convey the rewarding sense of accomplishment that you get working on a Habitat house. It is a “giving back” like no other, because you are doing it with your hands and your sweat and blood (a bit – I tried to keep it to a minimum but it IS a construction site and I AM a klutz). I am proud to be part of a company that felt that sense of community enough to contribute in a real way – but again, from my previous blog – I still think that Ken is a dork and won’t tell him that anything he does is cool.

What’s Happening In Our Region?

By: Alan Mani

The weekend is here, and hope you can take the time to enjoy the region’s events.  Levitt-Fuirst insures clients from Greenwich to Chappaqua, from Manhattan to Westport.  We love the region as much as anyone, and we hope you get out and enjoy the spoils our beautiful area offers.

Like what, you ask?  In Peekskill tonight, at 8:00pm, Eaglemania invades.  Eaglemania, known as “The World’s Greatest Eagles Tribute Band” will be performing all of the hits of the Eagles. Head out on this beautiful night if you can!!

Or this from  Next Tuesday evening, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich has a lecture on extreme environments!  Learn about biodiversity in the deep blue sea.

For more events in and around Armonk, click here to go to the Armonk Voice website.

For ideas in and around Greenwich, check out the events listed on the website!

Bicycle Across The Country: Brilliance or Insanity?

By: P. Andersen and L. Rush

Brilliance, by P. Andersen

The Adventure of a Lifetime.

As many of you know, Ken Fuirst, co-president of Levitt-Fuirst, is riding – his bicycle, mind you – from the coast of Washington State to the New Jersey shore; a ride commemorating his mid-life crisis at the age of 50.  He is riding from 50 to 200 miles per day, over Rockies and Black Hills, wind at his back and in his face.  If you know Ken, you know he likes to be in control.  This process does not really allow that, as you are at the mercy of weather, bike mechanicals, construction, aches and pains, and other people.  Always other people…

I have always been at ease on 2 wheels, from the day I learned to ride with my 4 older brothers’ assistance (pushed down the grass hill on our front lawn in Greenwich was how we Andersens learned to ride!).  In college, I bought my first mountain bike, and rode that to school, and for fun.  I moved back up to the northeast, and rode mountain bikes with my brothers on weekends in the woods of Connecticut.  They bought road bikes, I bought a road bike – and started racing in New York City.  I eventually became a Cat 3 racer, mid-level good, and even won some races in the city…  I brought my bike on my honeymoon in Spain!

So, bikes?  I get bikes, I love them, I have 3 of them that I neglect more than I should these days.

I never much wanted to ride across the country, though.  It is far, it is hard, it is dangerous, it has so much that is out of your control…  I think this is why I am fascinated with Ken’s adventure.  Taking time from Levitt-Fuirst, letting his faithful employees take care of his clients (unfathomable!), connecting with people from all walks of life, seeing the country in a way that few do.  There is a bit of a siren’s call to my inner cyclist while reading his blog – an appreciation of all he is doing.

I emailed a question to Ken last week, and he called me right back.  He was on his rest day, and was on his way to Mount Rushmore.  After discussing business, I told him that the employees were wondering if this ride might change him in some way; alter him as a boss, a manager, a person.  He said he honestly didn’t know what he would be like when he returned, how he would be changed (but there was a sense that he would be changed in some real way).  It seemed like a sign that sometimes a big, crazy, well planned but so much out of control adventure might just be the right thing, a defining thing, in one’s life.  And Ken’s first words on that call?  “You HAVE to do this ride someday”.

Maybe that adventure will call me one day, as it did Ken.  Maybe it will be some other trip, or quest, or goal that needs attaining.  Perhaps we should all find that thing in our lives, something that pushes us beyond our boundaries of comfort and safety.  Perhaps our definition of ourselves can be updated to include adventurer, risk taker, bucket lister.  I hope so for myself.

Insanity, by L. Rush

Ken’s Adventure…or as I like to call it “What you would do to me if you wanted me to spill State secrets”……

As many of you know, Ken Fuirst, Co-President of Levitt-Fuirst Associates has taken off on a 9-
week (give or take) adventure of a lifetime. He presented the employees with his plan last year in one of our monthly company meetings, when he told us that our “gift” in the coming year was that he planned to ride his bicycle cross country and be gone for two months. Once the cheering stopped, we all sort of forgot about it and went on about our business. And then he started training. Seriously training. As in “I biked from my house in Chappaqua down to the Jersey Shore”. I’m sorry, what?? My version of exercise is to walk to the bakery to get my pastry, so to me this was insanity. He started putting all in order in the office…making sure that his accounts were comfortable and taken care of, everyone was up to date on everything, down to the last minute detail. I still couldn’t see how this was going to happen – Ken is a bit of a “controller”. One of our favorite office games? Wait until Ken walks a few steps out of his office and then ring his phone and watch him go flying back in to retrieve the call, and hang up. There are no “missed work calls” in Ken’s world. We have worked together for 22 years. I know his personality, we have an odd, quirky friendship – and I still could not see this happening. And then it did – the day was here, he was leaving.

He started his trip in Seattle, WA. It is him and his bike, a few provisions, a tent, and a lot of determination. He is staying sometimes with people that open their homes to people biking this route, other times he camps where he can find a spot. He is traveling alone. This is the trip that I would plan for myself if I wanted to poke every fear, phobia and megrim that I have. He is blogging the whole time, posting pictures – some of the quirky, small-town oddities that strike his funny bone, some of the big, touristy spots, some of the miles and miles of barrenness that he has to bike through to get to the next small town. And some are of Ken, smiling, dirty, getting thinner by the day, and happier than I have ever seen his face. I am alternately awed and horrified. Some of his blogs begin with “So, I biked 73 miles to Bump In The Road, Montana and pitched my tent on the side of the road. My front tire is low (Ken’s front tire is always low by the way – it gives me palpitations), I stopped at the local bait/gun/huckleberry pancake store and had some breakfast….” . He talks to the locals, comes away with goofy stories and local legends and directions that may or may not be accurate. He is doing something that most people only dream about (not me….really….not me). He took “that thing” that everyone has that they want to do, talk about doing, dream of doing (Me? I want to write a really good novel, adopt a child that needs a good home, run a farm for abused dogs and children to help them heal each other), and he is DOING it.

And it’s hard and dirty work. And, being that my ultimate goal and pleasure in life is to tell Ken what a dork he is, I won’t tell him that I think this is a really cool thing. But I think it’s a really cool thing.

And here is our acclaimed boss Ken Fuirst, riding away into the openness.