ERA celebrates 30 years of supporting 'Jerry's Kids'
Based in Parsippany, N.J., ERA Real Estate has earned a reputation as one of the world’s leading residential franchise brokerage networks.
ERA’s slogan, “Always There for You,” applies equally to its commitment to helping people worldwide fulfill their home ownership dreams — and to its long-standing partnership with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
In 1977 when ERA relied on the fax machine to sell homes, it also took a new course and joined the fight against muscular dystrophy. As MDA’s exclusive sponsor in the real estate industry, ERA has worked hand in hand with the Association to bring help and hope to tens of thousands of people affected by neuromuscular diseases and their families.
Since then, the ERA network has expanded to include 30 countries and territories, with more than 38,000 sales associates and brokers worldwide. As the members build hope for future homeowners, they also have accepted the challenge of raising funds to help support MDA’s lifesaving research, services and information programs.
“We’re proud to be on MDA’s winning team in the race to eliminate all muscle-wasting diseases, and we’ll stay in the fight until cures are found,” said P.J. Martin Smith, senior vice president of marketing for ERA Real Estate and an MDA national vice president.
Established as Electronic Realty Associates in 1971, ERA began operations the next year with only 18 brokers. Five years later, when ERA Realty opened its corporate headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., it forged a vital partnership with MDA under the leadership of Robert Ross, MDA’s chief executive for 44 years who died in June.
In 1977, ERA founder and President Jim Jackson called upon 1,000 members to rally around the cause and raise funds for “Jerry’s kids.”
Brokers participated in MDA fundraisers, including ERA’s Jerry Lewis Open Home Days, when brokers contributed $1 to MDA for every family that toured a specially designated home for sale. And, during Listing for Lewis Days, members donated $10 to MDA for every home submitted for listing with an ERA-member realty firm.
“Our acceptance as an MDA sponsor means that we are totally committed to the fight against muscular dystrophy, financially and in every other way,” Jackson said following the announcement of ERA’s sponsorship. “Frankly, I know of no more worthwhile public service endeavor or one that we can support with such enthusiasm and pride.”
Early on, ERA created A Day in May for MDA. Traditionally, on a chosen date, the brokers would go door-to-door in their communities collecting funds to benefit MDA. Today, on the selected day, ERA affiliates raise funds through mobile sales, office donation canisters and other activities. In 2006, the program raised more than $330,000.
Shortly after ERA signed on as a corporate sponsor, one of its New Jersey brokers, Ed Bilinkas, breathed new life into its MDA efforts. In the late 1970s, after meeting New Jersey MDA Goodwill Ambassador Danny Temple, Bilinkas was moved to take action.
During his meeting with the 4-year-old, who had spinal muscular atrophy, Bilinkas “got down on his knees and promised Danny that he would do something every day for the rest of his life for MDA in Danny’s name,” recalls Bilinkas’ widow, Mary. “As long as he was alive, he did something every day for MDA.”
For seven years, Bilinkas was ERA’s top fund-raiser for MDA, and following his death in 1988, the company created the Ed Bilinkas Memorial Award. The award is given to ERA’s top fundraiser, recognizing his or her ability to carry on Bilinkas’ vision, spirit and steadfast commitment to helping “Jerry’s kids.”
Steven Alessandrini, ERA’s director of public relations, said, “Ed was a pioneer in developing the relationship and helped push it forward.”
The top fund-raiser also represents ERA on the annual national Telethon broadcast. This year, Martin Smith was joined on the Telethon by two Ed Bilinkas Memorial Award recipients — Jim Grandon, president of Jack Gaughen Realtors ERA in Camp Hill, Pa., and Dan Jacuzzi, broker for the ERA Realty Center in Cameron Park, Calif.
“The reason we’ve had so much success in the long term has been because of the efforts of our very dedicated agents and brokers,” Alessandrini said. “As a network, everything we do as a whole is a reflection of the hard work on the local level by our agents and brokers.”
In 2007, ERA will celebrate its 30th anniversary of supporting MDA. To commemorate the partnership, ERA kicked off its year-long campaign called Home in on a Cure on this year’s MDA Telethon.
“It’s important to celebrate the milestone and pay tribute to the hard work that’s been done on our part and on the part of MDA,” Alessandrini said. “More importantly, it’s another way to keep focused on the ultimate goal — help MDA make the lives better for those people affected by muscular dystrophy and to find a cure.”
The goal of the Home in on a Cure campaign is to raise $2 million and present that amount to MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis on next year’s Telethon. In 2006, ERA’s contributions totaled $1 million.
The new campaign incorporates ERA’s long-standing national fund-raiser, A Day in May for MDA, as well as several new programs. These include the ERA/MDA Home Grown Hero program, amd an online video game called Home in on a Price that launched in September. An online celebrity auction is planned for spring.
In the Home Grown Hero program, ERA members make online contact with clients, business associates, family and friends, and gather secure online contributions to MDA. Those who collect a minimum of $1,000 during the year will earn the ERA/MDA Home Grown Hero designation and receive special recognition.
ERA’s corporate employees and affiliate sales associates and brokers also hold golf tournaments, bowling events, walk-a-thons and other social events year-round to benefit MDA.
At ERA’s International Business Conference held in February in San Francisco, the conference welcomed MDA National Goodwill Ambassador Luke Christie, 13, and MDA National Youth Chairman Billy Gilman, 18. Both young men wowed some 5,000 brokers, briefing them on MDA’s progress and thanking them for their support.
Since ERA joined forces with the Association, its brokers and sales associates have raised more than $30 million to benefit “Jerry’s kids.”
ERA’s 2007 international conference will be held March 8-11 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The company will celebrate 30 years as an MDA sponsor, and its 35th year in the real estate industry.
Alessandrini explained, “The people at ERA always have been passionate about [working with MDA] because of the great work that MDA does. It’s great to be able to see some of our support for MDA translate into support for some phenomenal kids and adults living with muscle disorders.”