Mike Woolery, the vice president of land acquisition for Pulte Homes, was attending a Schroeder-Manatee Ranch builders party Dec. 13 at Lakewood Ranch Country Club.
SMR had granted a presentation by Lakewood Ranch Community Fund Vice President Mark Clark, who told the builders about a new program called "Builders Give Back."
The hope for the program was that, if the builders were willing to get on board, that each new home sale would lead to a $100 donation to the LWRCF, paid by the builder, in the name of the new owner.
The new owner, meanwhile, would receive a welcome to the community letter, explaining the mission of the LWRCF.
"We heard the presentation," Woolery said. "We thought, 'We have to be part of that.'"
With construction costs having skyrocketed the past two years and a nation suffering from inflation, why would any of the builders be willing to commit to an extra cost?
"We build in Lakewood Ranch," Woolery said. "So we want to make a positive impact. And the more we can get the word out (about the LWRCF), that is great."
Pulte was the first builder to join the program, signing in February. Six major builders have followed — Anchor Builders, Homes by Towne, John Cannon Homes, Lee Wetherington Homes, AR Homes, and Stock Luxury Homes.
SMR has agreed to match each donation up to $10,000 a year.
The program officially began April 1.
"I thought it was well received," LWRCF Executive Director Adrienne Bookhamer said. "Then Pulte was first on board.
"This is incredible. Seven builders is a great place to start ... and, yes, we have room for more."
Because most of the builders involved in the program produce luxury homes, Bookhamer said it will likely be next year before the program begins to roll for area non-profits. Then, Bookhamer said, a very conservative estimate would have the builders closing on 20 homes a month, meaning $2,000 a month in donations to the LWRCF, which since its founding in 2000, has granted more than $1.5 million to more than 100 region nonprofits.
Over the course of a year, the program could produce $34,000 or more added to the amount the LWRCF could grant to nonprofits during a normal year.
"We had the conversation, about how we could include the builders in such a program," Bookhamer said of the fund's board. "How could we get access to new residents?"
The board members pitched the idea to SMR, which liked the idea and has been helping to bring the program to reality.
"SMR has been very involved," Bookhamer said. "They set up the initial meeting with the builders at the (Dec. 13) party. And it was a win-win situation for both the LWRCF and the builders. We are building awareness. They are showing residents they support philanthropy. This is a complete game-changer. We can make a bigger impact now."
The hope is the new area homeowners will support the LWRCF in the future.
“This program allows new residents to experience the welcoming and giving culture of Lakewood Ranch right when they move in,” Bookhamer said. "Our builders understand the lifestyle in Lakewood Ranch is unique, and they are supporting that by participating in Builders Give Back."
Dena James of John Cannon Homes said her company wanted to contribute since it has experience so many good years building in Lakewood Ranch.
"If there is a way we can give back to Lakewood Ranch," she said. "We want to do it. We've had such a great partnership (with SMR) for so many years, we are happy to participate."
Svetlana Stelmach said Homes by Towne thought the program will be "amazing."
"This is something new, and it is time for something like this to come together," she said.
Stelmach said it will be important to show new owners what kind of philanthropy is available to them.
"We deal with people out of the state and out of the country," she said. "People do want to give, and donate. They just don't know where to go. This will give them an option."
Dominick Giallombardo said Stock Development has only a five- to six-year history building in the Lakewood Ranch area and therefore it is important to show "we want to be part of the community," he said. "In our communities, we try to help whenever possible."
Jim Grittner of Nelson Homes (AR Homes) said his company "automatically" wanted to be part of the program. Ashley Miller, also of Nelson Homes, said most of the new homeowners want to be involved in the community.
"It is only natural to give back," she said.
Lee Wetherington Homes CEO David Hunihan has lived in either Mill Creek or the River Club more than 20 years. He said he wanted to live near the Lakewood Ranch area because he felt it would be a big part of his future as a builder.
"This area has benefitted my career," he said. "We build here, and we live here. We've always supported Lakewood Ranch. And Lakewood Ranch has been so good to us, and has supported us."
Even though Hunihan has long known about the LWRCF, he said he now is finding out more details about the nonprofit.
"This program just makes sense," he said
Harry Fendt, the builder rep for Roy Dupuis, Anchor Builders, said, "the sooner you communicate how easy it is to contribute (to the community), the better. Some people want to know how they can contribute, and they want to take some ownership. This is about awareness and education."
Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.