When Superstorm Sandy canceled the New York Marathon in 2012, the runners were disappointed. Probably none more so than Chris Gaffney, the Toll Brothers group president who was planning to raise money for Covenant House, a privately funded agency that provides transitional housing and counseling for homeless children in more than 21 cities.
Not running would let the kids down, Gaffney believed, so he decided to travel south and secure a spot in the Philadelphia Marathon instead. The only problem? That race fell two days after he was to spend a cold November night on the streets of New York as part of Covenant House’s Sleep Out: Executive Edition—another event he helped organize to raise money and awareness. Deciding it was the least he could do, Gaffney ignored standard advice about getting plenty of rest before running a marathon.
For Gaffney, the winner of the 2016 Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award, a sleepless night on the streets and then running a 26.2-mile race two days later seemed a small sacrifice. He spends hours with kids who live in Covenant House’s facilities, and he listens to their stories. He tears up as he recalls a Covenant House resident whose leg had been broken by gang members. The young man offered Gaffney his crutches to use if he felt sore after the marathon. “These kids have had such hard lives, and yet they were worried about me!” Gaffney says. “For me to do this was a walk in the park.”
Gaffney, who oversees Toll Brothers’ suburban home building activities in New Jersey and New York, joined the Covenant House New Jersey Board of Directors in 2010 and also served on the New York Board of Directors before taking a seat on the Covenant House Philadelphia board last year. In addition to running one of Toll Brothers’ largest divisions, he devotes nearly a full 40-hour workweek to Covenant House, raising money, recruiting colleagues and peers to join him in supporting the organization, and—most important—spending time with the kids.
“Family happens over meals, and Chris always has time to stop by our shelter for lunch or dinner to get to know our kids and encourage them,” says John Ducoff, executive director of Covenant House Pennsylvania. “Like the dinner when Chris connected with one of our young people, an aspiring singer/rapper, and convinced him to perform, or the lunch when he convinced another one of our kids to showcase his very good (and self-taught) magic tricks, to a pickup game of basketball with our kids and staff, and even just a quiet conversation with one of our young women to hear her story and compliment her determination to turn her life around for herself and her infant son. All of these small moments of kindness and connection matter tremendously to our young people.”