From networking organization to a source of commercial real estate’s future: Now more than two decades old, CREW New York’s scholarship programs have helped create an entire generation of industry and chapter leaders.
Many of them will gather next month to celebrate a landmark event: CREW New York’s 40th Anniversary Gala fundraising event on October 4, 2018, themed to “Celebrating Yesterday, Shaping Tomorrow.”
Net proceeds from the Gala will be used to support CREW New York’s mission to advance the careers of women within commercial real estate through scholarship, mentorship, education, public outreach and other philanthropic activities. The CREW New York scholarship programs benefit the CRE industry by preparing the next generation of real estate professionals, providing not only financial assistance, but also by helping them develop the resources to succeed, observes Jennifer Carey, Past President of CREW New York and Immediate Past Chair CREW Network Foundation.
The AREW Charitable Fund, was established by the Association of Real Estate Women (a predecessor of CREW New York) in 1990 as a not-for-profit organization, seeded by $55,000 raised from a gala dinner. The Charitable Fund had two goals: to support a Scholarship Fund for women pursuing studies in real estate, and to local charities benefiting women.
“When speaking at our monthly luncheons, I’d say, ‘Look around and see a group of educated, employed, affluent women who have succeeded in the city that offers the most opportunity in the country that offers the most opportunity in the world. This makes us an extremely elite group,” recalls Iva Kravitz, Principal of The Iva Agency and a previous head of the fund. “The onus is on us to give back to the people who haven’t had the opportunities we’ve had.”
That first year, five grants of $1,000 each were awarded to students at Columbia University and New York University. On the charitable side, a donation was made to upgrade the rear yard at WIN’s Alexander Abraham Residence in Manhattan.
Over the years, both aspects of the Charitable Fund’s activities expanded. The scholarship amounts rose to $3,000 per person, and were available for more schools: Columbia School of Architecture, Columbia Business School, Baruch College, NYU – Real Estate Institute. Multiple AREW members became mentors to winners, many of whom in turn became members themselves as their careers began. Frances Delgorio, an early scholarship recipient, became AREW President in 2007.
A major addition coincided with AREW’s 30th anniversary, when the organization raised $100,000 to name a scholarship fund for co-founder Merle Gross Ginsberg. Each year, a total of up to $10,000 was awarded to NYU graduate students, with a committee of Board and Charitable Fund members selecting the recipients from a group of applicants pre-screened by NYU.
“We established a series of criteria, and there is a substantial application process,” including financial need, academic achievement, a paper and personal interview, explained Madelyne Kirch, president of Sun & Moon Marketing Communications and chair of the Merle Gross Ginsburg Scholarship Committee. Many students pursuing graduate studies in commercial real estate have taken on significant debt, Kirch continued.
“The students have made a fairly serious commitment,” she said. “We awarded one young woman a sum of money, and she told us, ‘This is the reason I can continue in school.’ All of the students are really grateful.”
The process was more than a little intimidating, recalled MacKenzie Landers Thorn, one of the first recipients of a Merle Gross-Ginsberg scholarship and now director of real estate at FJ Management in Salt Lake City. Wyoming-born, Thorn had grown up around commercial real estate, and wanted to attend a New York City graduate school to pursue an interest in development inspired by her work with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.
“I wanted to add value to communities through cultural development, and it’s rewarding to physically create something. I also believed if you can learn to build in New York, you can build anywhere.” Thorn said. “I applied for the scholarship, and I remember walking in for the interview and there were about ten women around the table including Merle. It was very intimidating. I remember meeting a friend after and telling her I think I failed the interview. When Merle called to say I’d been awarded a scholarship, I recall exactly where I was–it was very emotional to have her calling me directly.”
Just as important as the funding was the mentorship from the AREW community, with Ginsberg and others giving advice about general business and presentation. “They not only awarded me money, but they took me under their wing,” Thorn said.
To Allison Robin, now a principal at Levien & Company and 2019 CREW New York President-Elect, taking on graduate studies early in her career was important to gain credibility.
“I was in my early 20s, and the decision to get my master’s degree in construction management was a really big step for me,” she recalled. “For the organization to come forward and offer money to help pay for my studies was really meaningful. At the interview, this panel of powerhouse women was so supportive and enthusiastic. Although I was nervous, I felt they really wanted me to succeed and do well. I stayed in touch with the organization, and several years later, I realized I was one of these women.”
Gender, however, is not one criterion: a number of men have been awarded Merle Gross-Ginsberg scholarships.
“My boss, Jennifer Carey, CEO of JLC Environmental Consultants, Inc. and an active member of the CREW advisory board, encouraged me to apply for the scholarship in 2016,” recalled Arthur Doyle, now a senior environmental consultant at Watts Architecture and Engineering. “I felt that as a male candidate who is also a member of a minority group, I had a unique chance to relay a unique perspective which I felt the board appreciated hearing.”
The influence of the Merle Gross Ginsberg also is being felt outside the New York area. Thorn has since relocated to Salt Lake City and has become an active member of her local CREW Utah chapter. Today, she is on the board leading an annual CREW Utah scholarship to area female students. Her experience with AREW has charged her with giving back to others and offering the rewarding experience she was given from AREW.
“Over the past four years we’ve given out $40,000 in scholarships,” she said. “I used the knowledge I gained from the AREW scholarship.”
“When I first was awarded the Merle Gross-Ginsburg scholarship, I had no idea where it would lead me, that I would now be in the middle of this organization that wants me to succeed in my career,” Robin said. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity and for this one woman who had a vision to create a scholarship for women like me.”
CREW New York has been dedicated to the advancement of professional women in commercial real estate through networking, education and leadership development since its founding in 1978. With approximately 300 members, CREW New York is the leading organization for professional women in commercial real estate in New York City. Membership, drawn from all levels of experience in virtually every discipline in the industry, provides a lively, noncompetitive environment of provocative interaction, exchanges of information, business referrals and professional and personal growth. www.crewny.org.