Wednesday
October 22, 2014

The Renaissance Man of Rotary

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The Renaissance Man of Rotary

Meet Good Neighbor Finalist Ken Davis, who inspires his community to volunteer as he makes life a little sweeter for orphans and more focused for underprivileged youth.

Meet the 2013 Good Neighbor Award finalists

The Good Neighbor Awards recognize REALTORS® who are making an extraordinary impact through community service. We will profile one of our 10 finalists each day in our Daily News. Five of these finalists will be named winners and will receive $10,000 grants for their charities. They will also be welcomed into the Good Neighbor Society during NAR's 2013 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. The five honorable mentions each receive $2,500 for their cause.

Starting Sept. 17, we will give our readers the chance to vote for their favorites. On Oct. 1, we will announce the "Web Choice" top vote-getter, along with the five winners of the $10,000 grants. The Web Choice winner will receive an additional grant of $500, whether they are chosen as a Good Neighbor honorable mention or a winner.

The Good Neighbor Awards is sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Tawesa Wendy Desir represents the many ways Ken Davis has uses his skills and connections to make his charitable interests intersect. Davis first met Desir, then a high school senior, two years ago at Tomorrow’s Promise Community School in Delray Beach, Fla.,a charter school that serves underprivileged and troubled youth, where Davis is a mentor and benefactor.

A long-time Rotarian, Davis helped Desir land a Rotary college scholarship. Last year, as a college freshman, she joined the Rotaract Club, a junior precursor to Rotary that Davis guides. Through club fundraisers, Desir helped send supplies to an orphanage in the Bahamas that Davis has supported for years. Desir, 19, says: “He showed me that you don’t give up.” This could be Davis’s lifelong motto.

Volunteer service is something that Davis has cultivated extensively in his 39-year career as a REALTOR®. It was a phone call he received in 1999, however, that really changed the course of his life. His missionary cousin was worried about his family who ran an orphanage in the Bahamas — Hurricane Floyd had just devastated the island.

A licensed pilot, Davis flew his private plane from Boca Raton to the remote island—more than 300 miles away—to deliver vital necessities to the Cat Island Orphanage, which houses approximately 20 children. When he arrived, he remembers, he was blown away by the rough conditions on the island—with no reliable power, phone service, or running water—and by the unwavering enthusiasm of the orphanage children and their caretakers. “My heartstrings were pulled for this work,” he says. “I decided I sure wouldn’t mind working my butt off for this.”

Since that first visit, he has returned at least every month with his plane loaded with groceries and necessities such as soil, fertilizer, truck parts, and plumbing and electrical supplies.

He raised enough money to install a desalinization plant. Previously, the orphanage used a well that contained so much salt it was unsafe for drinking or for watering plants. Another fundraiser he spearheaded gave the children 300 fruit trees, which now feed the children. Realizing that even more could be accomplished if others helped, he started to spread the word.

“I’ve managed to get several organizations and churches involved,” he says. Once a month, Davis flies down a load of college students to bring donations and spend time with the children. “They bring their drums and sing and play guitar for the children—they inspire them spiritually.”

The college students who do the most fundraising for the orphanage are the members of the Palm Beach State College Rotaract Club.Under Davis’ guidance, the students fixed up and donated a truck to the orphanage, started a pen pal program and, for the past two Christmases, raised enough money to fill Davis’s plane full of gifts.

“It was amazing to see college students dedicated to help children who [many of us] will probably never meet,” says last year’s Rotaract president Nicole Richards, 21. “After that [truck donation] project, we realized how our lives, and what we choose to do with them, can have an impact on people hundreds of miles away.”

“He challenges [students] to think about service and not just what normal teens think of, which is themselves,” says Douglas Mummaw, Rotaract advisor and past president of The Rotary Club of Boca Raton. “He’s very pragmatic. He identifies a need, and then he does what he needs to do to satisfy that need.”

Davis has used his Rotary connections to help Tomorrow’s Promise, the high school from which Desir graduated in 2012. He was first introduced to the school by a student he met while he was visiting a property. The boy, the son of Haitian immigrants who lived in a house with a dirt floor, noticed Davis working and asked, “How do I get to be like you?” The boy told Davis about his school and asked him to stop by. Soon thereafter, he did, with several fixed-up bicycles and a readiness to assist the school, which was struggling financially.

Marjorie Waldo, the school’s principal, says the impact Davis has made on her and the students is remarkable. “Ken has completely changed the complexion of the work that I’ve been doing for decades,” she says. “He is a mentor to me. He is a mentor to the kids. He talked to me about funding issues and how to be more successful as a nonprofit. He changed everything.”

Davis has raised more than $100,000 for the school through Rotary fundraisers. And he works with Rotary to provide college scholarships—including those to Palm Beach State College, where he encourages his charter school mentees to join the Rotaract Club.

Perhaps most important for the at-risk kids, Davis coaches and supports students who need help. Waldo says that in addition to tutoring, Davis drives students to after-school and scholarship events. He has made calls to students’ families’ landlords to help them get back on track with payments, and he has quietly helped those in need with electricity bills.

“He parents them a little bit with values and tries to help them restructure their paradigm,” she says. “People from poverty often have a different view of life — they try to keep their heads above water and survive. Ken is teaching [these students] how to save money and look to college as a long-term solution rather than to a first job because mom needs rent. He tries to impart his wisdom for the long term.”

Desir says she recently discovered that Davis is still there for her, two years beyond her high school graduation. Last January, she was in a devastating car accident and had to drop out of the college program she had worked so hard to attend. Davis has made sure the paperwork from the hospital was sent to the college’s financial aid office, setting Desir up to reapply in January. He taught me “there’s always a way,” says Desir, who wants to go into nursing.

Davis says he hopes his actions will persuade others to help those in need. “Don’t miss the joy of your life, the joy of helping others like this,” he says. “When you do good for others, you forget about the problems you think you have.”

—By Kristin Kloberdanz

Contact Davis at rlty@bellsouth.net. Fing more information about the Rotary Club of Boca Raton here.