It's no coincidence that HomeAid America—one of the country's largest developers of transitional housing for the homeless—is celebrating its 25th anniversary the same year that Bert Selva is receiving the Hearthstone Builder Humanitarian Award.
In fact, without Selva's dedication, HomeAid would not have survived the past few years. The Shea Homes CEO, who has served for 11 years on HomeAid's board of directors, is a big supporter of the nonprofit that works to provide housing for homeless families, victims of natural disasters, and veterans. To date, Shea Homes has built eight HomeAid shelter projects valued at more than $5.2 million and has contributed nearly $850,000 to HomeAid and its chapters, making it one of the group's largest benefactors.
Selva was chairman of the board of directors of the Irvine, Calif.-based organization when the housing industry suffered its worst downturn in 60 years. The group, which relies on the generosity of builders and their industry partners, saw its financial and human resources decimated and was at risk of going under. But even during the darkest days of the recession—when Selva was working hard to keep his own company afloat—he refused to let the building industry forget about HomeAid.
"It takes a real leader to give time and resources when things are so dire," recalls HomeAid CEO Peter Simons. "Bert was that leader to say to his peers in the industry, building product companies, and financial partners, 'I know it's tough but we're going to get through this and we need HomeAid to get through this, too.'"
Selva, never one to back down from a challenge, shored up HomeAid's resources and restructured its operations to ensure its survival. He also organized a 2013 fundraising event and benefit concert featuring his friend, singer John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, that raised almost $100,000. HomeAid is now on solid financial ground and looking to grow as it enters its second quarter-century.
Selva's work with HomeAid and several other nonprofits has earned him the 2014 Hearthstone Humanitarian Award from BUILDER and Hearthstone Inc. based on lifetime commitment to public service. The honor includes recognition at an event during the 2014 International Builders' Show and a cash award to a charity of his choice.
A Calling to Serve Others
Reaching out to those in need has always been personal for Selva. It is a way of life instilled in him at an early age, at a Catholic high school in San Francisco. "The Jesuits taught us to be 'men for others,' to think of others first, and I personally believe that's one of the greatest sources of happiness," he says. Some other causes important to him include mentoring high school and college students and supporting cancer and diabetes research through Los Angeles-based City of Hope Hospital.
But his most personal mission involves raising funds for ALS treatment after his good friend, Augie Nieto, was diagnosed with the degenerative condition, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2005. To help fund Augie's Quest, Nieto's nonprofit, Selva initiated and was the catalyst for the Tradition of Hope Gala, which over the past eight years has raised more than $7 million for research efforts. Augie's Quest has helped to fund several promising research trials, and Selva is optimistic that a cure won't be far behind.
To that end, he also serves as a national vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which partners with Augie's Quest to focus on fast-tracking ALS clinical trials.
Selva's friends and admirers are amazed at how he can accomplish so much while leading one of the largest and most innovative building companies in the country. "Whatever he takes on he gives fully of himself. He doesn't know how to do something half speed," Simon says.
The energetic 52-year-old admits that he doesn't have much free time beyond work and family, but his relentless drive to help people who are struggling comes from his empathy for those who are less fortunate.
"I ask myself, 'How would it feel if that were me or my family?'" Selva says. "When you personalize it, it becomes a lot more real and that's the motivation for me."