Richmond, Va.–area developer Bob Atack doesn't waste a second considering where to take a visitor who asks him to show off the property that makes him proudest. The pair jumps into his 2007 black Chevrolet Tahoe and motors past the year-old Henley community, where elegant single-family homes sell for up to $2 million. Atack, president of Atack Properties in Glen Allen, Va., points it out but passes it by.
Instead, Atack pulls his Tahoe into Richmond's inner-city Bainbridge area, where liquor stores outnumber churches and panhandlers hover too close to cars stopped at red lights. He points to an empty and neglected 44-unit apartment building across the street from a store called Marketplace, whose main wares are wine and lottery tickets and whose regular customers were the once-residents who lived in those apartments.
That was before Atack bought the building—and its 36-unit twin down the street—and donated both to Good Samaritan Ministries. Now, says Atack, the store's owner is pressing him to buy Marketplace, too, because his one-time customers have either stopped buying wine or have moved away.
This is Atack's pride and joy, the project he calls his “passion.” He has donated upward of $1.5 million to the 20-year-old Christian mission for the homeless and drug-addicted, and has led a fundraising effort that nearly matched it. He has lent employees to help renovate the two buildings of 612-square-foot, two-bedroom apartments, which are home to “graduates” of a 90-day mission orientation, during which its patrons live in a 30-bed men's dorm while they detoxify and learn the mission's routine: rise early, study the Bible, prepare for the day, then go to work around the mission in unpaid jobs ranging from stuffing envelopes to selling Christmas trees.
After three drug- and alcohol-free months, patrons may move—with their wives and children if they have them—into the tiny apartments for another nine months. During that time, they learn basic carpentry and life skills, attend group counseling sessions, and work every day—some on the grounds of one of Atack's commercial properties; others side-by-side with local contractors who are renovating the apartments; and a few in the mission's ancillary businesses such as a Christmas tree lot.
Half of the mission's 33-member staff began as wards of the program, which, with help from Atack and a handful of other prominent Richmond businessmen, has grown from a shelter with room for 23 men in a converted tire recap shop to an apartment community that houses more than 100. Today's mission also runs an elementary and high school for 64 at-risk students, a church, and a neighborhood outreach center that serves 200,000 meals a year.
“Every day is a miraculous event, a day that is life-changing,” says Atack, a onetime Realtor who has developed properties in Richmond's affluent west-end suburbs since 1985.
His life is one that the mission has changed.
No, Atack, whose $46 million-a-year firm develops around 325 lots a year for condos, offices, strip malls, and residential neighborhoods, was never homeless. The son of a Realtor, he caught the real estate bug early—mowing the lawns of his father's for-sale properties—and spent the first part of his career brokering deals between developers and home builders. In 1985, he developed his first 65 lots and found “it was in my blood.”
FATE OR FAITH?
Like most busy entrepreneurs, Atack devoted his time and directed his talent to his growing business. But as Atack Properties prospered, Atack says, he realized “what my talents could do for others.” And, he notes, “My first talent is my financial talent, being able to write a check and seeing what good that money can do immediately.”
He has written plenty of them. Over the years, he has donated more than $250,000 to an organization that builds affordable retirement housing; $100,000 to a local cultural arts center; $100,000 to a Holocaust museum; $238,000 to his Baptist church; $55,000 to the YMCA; and $85,000 to a community development organization. He donated an $8 million, 80-acre property to a local youth soccer club, a $250,000 home to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a $190,000 property to a local daycare provider and an $800,000 school site to the county where he lives and works. In 2006 alone, he donated 40 percent of his income to charities.
“It seems the more I give, the better I do,” notes Atack, who says his generosity has helped make his business more profitable, although he can't pinpoint how.
He calls it “fate.”
The Rev. Jerry Fink calls it “faith.”
It was Fink who started Atack, who displays a copy of John C. Maxwell's Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know in his company's reception area, on his philanthropic path 12 years ago, when Fink asked Atack for advice about building a low-income, continuous-care community for elderly Virginians. Atack wound up serving on the board of directors and has made a number of substantial donations to the projects of Virginia United Methodist Homes, where Fink was president.
“I've heard all my life, ‘Put your money where your mouth is,'” Fink explains. “I think he puts his money where his faith is. The causes to which he contributes, he has great faith in them, confidence in them. ... He's firmly committed to anything he gets involved in.”
Indeed, Fink, who nominated Atack for the Hearthstone award, estimates that the developer spends more than 40 percent of his time working with the charities—giving tours, talking up potential donors, serving on boards, offering advice, and even counseling patrons of Good Samaritan who take an interest in the construction field.
“He chooses his projects based upon the need that the project is seeking to meet,” explains Fink, “and then Bob meets those needs. He feels that some way, the hand of God moved him in that direction.”
IN THE BEGINNINGAtack agrees. The Catholic-turned-Baptist was watching television one evening 10 years ago when the Rev. Mike McClary, a recovering drug addict, appeared on the screen asking for donations for a summer camp for at-risk kids. Atack sent enough to sponsor two children, and McClary invited him to Bainbridge-based Good Samaritan Ministries for a tour.
“I was afraid to come to Bainbridge,” Atack admits now, “but as fate would have it, this is my passion.”
That became clear once he spent an hour with McClary, a Baptist minister who opened the mission in 1987 after a similar facility in Norfolk, Va., had helped him kick a drug habit that began as a teenager. In McClary's presence, Atack refers to himself as “Bob,” and explains, “There are two Bobs.” One is a toe-the-line businessman. The other rarely says no to a request from McClary.
McClary responds that Good Samaritan is Atack's “ministry,” his fate. “I'm not real strong on coincidence,” says McClary. “Bob's been good for Good Samaritan, but Good Samaritan has been good for Bob, too.”
Indeed, notes McClary, who ran away from home at 13 and was homeless for nearly 20 years except for a brief, alcohol-marred stint in the military, “He's got some big developments [in Glen Allen], but this one affects more people. This one has meant the difference between someone living or dying on the streets.”
Fink says “both” Bobs are imbued with a mission to help others.
The building of homes and neighborhoods, notes Fink, “is to provide for people. He makes money off of it ... that gives him a foundation and a footing to get involved in [charity work]. Being involved in these faith-based organizations is a constant reminder of the person he is—he maintains honesty and integrity—and he brings that to his business. Nothing breeds success like success.”
And he brings his business acumen to the charities he chooses.
“He doesn't want to do something with an organization that is fly-by-night, one of those surface things that's here today, gone tomorrow,” notes Fink. “He wants to do something that will have a lasting impact on helping people.”
To that end, Atack visits the mission often; he knows many of the patrons and calls them by name. He talks to McClary on the phone every day. Atack Properties' accountants handle the mission's books. His son, a home builder, also helps out at the mission. And although Atack does not ask his 20-person staff to donate money or time to the cause, many do.
“Being involved in the mission has strengthened my faith because I see the results,” says Atack, who has allowed a few mission “graduates” to use his credit to get financing so they could buy their first homes.
Next, says Atack, he hopes to help the mission expand its school before he retires.
“People's legacies,” he says, “are so much defined by what they've accumulated. A legacy is better defined by what they do.” He adds: “I think people do what they can.”
As Atack and his visitor ride back to Atack Properties' suburban campus, Bob the builder swings by CrossRidge, a gated, age-restricted community packed with 650 low-maintenance homes ranging from single-family houses to townhomes to condominiums, with prices from $300,000 to $500,000. They abut an Atack Properties–developed shopping center.
“This,” notes Bob the philanthropist, “is what enables us to have the abundance to help.”
POSITION: President, Atack Properties, Glen Allen, Va.
CHARITABLE WORK: Includes Good Samaritan Ministries, Virginia United Methodist Homes, the Cultural Arts Center of Glen Allen, Virginia Holocaust Museum, Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Shady Grove YMCA, Local Initiatives Support Corp., Richmond Strikers Youth Soccer Club, Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Joseph's Villa, Henrico County
- Ralph Drees, chairman, The Drees Co.
- Bernard Drueding III, president, B.J. Drueding Builders
- J. Roger Glunt, CEO, Jayar Construction/ Glunt Development
- David K. Hill, CEO, Kimball Hill Homes
- Joseph Pusateri, president, Elite Homes
- Nicolas R. Retsinas, director, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies
- David M. Showers, president, Strausser Investment
- Robert J. Strudler, COO, Lennar Corp.
- J. Ronald Terwilliger, CEO and president, Trammel Crow Residential
- Larry Webb, CEO, John Laing Homes
Lee Wetherington, CEO, Lee Wetherington Homes
- Lifetime commitment: The builder demonstrates a lifetime of commitment to charitable work.
- Depth of commitment: The builder shows a significant commitment to charitable activities in terms of personal time and resources contributed.
- Significance of contribution: The builder has made a significant difference in both the number of people affected and the impact on those who have benefited from the builder's involvement.
- Inspirational value: The builder inspires many others to get more involved in community service activities.
- Significance of charity: Highest preference is given to charities that assist the unfortunate and underprivileged. After this, significant weight is given to charities that involve housing.
- Ability of charity to use award: The charity should be one that can readily use the award in a productive manner.
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS
All for-profit builders or lot developers are eligible as either individuals or companies for the Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Awards. Builders may nominate themselves or be nominated by other builders or by the charities, nonprofits, or government organizations they have helped. BUILDER will begin accepting nominations starting on March 15, 2007 and continuing until Aug. 1, 2007. To request a nomination form, contact Loretta Williams at 202-736-3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.