Our team spends a lot of time talking about how our values align with one another. We believe those values can be intertwined with the way we conduct our business. Do the next right thing and Karma will look favorably upon us.
Most people think karma is a faith-based phenomenon. But we could make a logical argument that its power is real, especially in business. Every day we can do right by our clients, adhere to that code, and without ever taking shortcuts, we can be wildly successful.
Here’s a simple example: We’ll always tell a client NOT to buy or NOT to sell if our analysis of the data we’ve gathered points in that direction, even if that means it’s one less transaction for the team. We know that at some point, it probably will be the right time, and through our actions we’ll have built a sincere level of trust with our clients. Surely, they’ll want to work with us when the time is right. But more than that, those clients are far more likely to refer us to a friend, family member, or co-worker, very specifically because we did the right thing. That’s good karma and it’s great for business.
There are two sides to karma. The side that most people think about is fear — i.e., if you do something wrong, you’ll be punished. But it’s the other side of karma that’s way more powerful. It’s about being rewarded for doing things the right way and for putting positive energy into the world.
Whether it’s a client or another professional, we consciously try to attract like-minded people, and as soon as we meet people who share a similar mindset, we instantly gravitate toward them.
A few years ago, we met interior designers Leslie Rinehardt and Marvin Miller of Rinehardt Miller Interiors. We shared the same high-profile international client who ultimately purchased a $14.5 Million apartment in New York City. We became fast friends and we’re excited every time we get to work with their team.
In mid-September, we caught up with Rinehardt, Miller and Kara Ingraham, who is their longtime friend and also a partner in two new ventures they’re hoping will change the world for the better. Our conversation veered almost immediately to something deeply existential.
Like brokering high-end real estate transactions in New York City, interior Design is usually thought of as a luxury designated mostly for the privileged. In fact, it’s something Rinehardt told us she’s wrestled with going all the way back to the 80s, when a single moment in her life served as an awakening.
She was being chauffeured in a car along Central Park West. She looked out her window and saw a young girl rummaging through the trash. Rinehart said the man she was riding with could tell that she was overcome with emotion, so he said to her, “Leslie, only look at the beautiful things. Look at Central Park.”
It was a moment that forced Rinehart to question her own path, and it’s a memory that provides much needed perspective every time it gets triggered. Rinehardt told us she went into a deeply spiritual vortex at some point in the 90’s and even became ashamed of what she did for a living.
“I make very wealthy, comfortable people more comfortable,” she thought. “I could not reconcile.”
But now it’s almost 2020, and after a lot of reflection, Rinehardt is thriving again in design. She’s fueled by and determined to use her experience to make a positive difference beyond the work she’s hired to do.
For Rinehardt, there’s no more guilt, nor should there be. Our team spent the next 15 minutes discussing our jobs and our industries, and the tremendous wealth in real estate and in design. Everyone in the room was on the same page — It’s okay to be successful. It’s even okay to be wealthy. Earned success isn’t something you should be ashamed of or something that should be begrudged. It’s only a problem if it causes you to lose site of anything that’s truly important. Success and wealth that comes with it can also put you in better position to effect positive change.
Rinehardt said she wants to have an impact on a much bigger scale. “I’m very much invested in spending the rest of my life and using whatever skillsets I have in issues around social justice and social equity.”
The Big Idea
Several years back, Rinehardt, Miller and Ingraham started meeting weekly for informal brainstorming sessions that they called, “The Big Idea.” They tried to come up with a way to match their skillsets with giving back to the community, they just weren’t quite sure what they could do.
Then, in 2015 a massive fire destroyed hundreds of condominiums in their hometown of Edgewater, NJ. So many people lost their homes and all the contents within them. In response, Rinehardt, Miller and Ingraham started a company called Design Angels. They wanted to raise money to help people get back to a home that felt like their own.
Design Angels setup a GoFundMe account, but nobody contributed.
“Wanting to help people in Edgewater was like saying there’s a fire in Beverly Hills,” Ingraham said. “Nobody cared. That was deflating, but it was enlightening at the same time.”
So, the trio went back to their brainstorming sessions. In any spare time she had, Ingraham researched every cause and every plight she could find, looking for the right fit. She read about generational homelessness, and about the growing population of homeless children. Shelters aren’t at all set up for families she said. It’s a really difficult life that these children are born into.
She learned about entire classrooms in California filled mostly with students that were homeless, maybe living in a car or going from family member to family member. They call it “couch surfing,” she said. Living that way makes it extremely difficult just to enroll at a school since they’re districted by geography, and you need a permanent address to be a part of a district.
“It becomes this huge overwhelming nightmare,” Ingraham said. “How did we start talking about generational homelessness in the United States of America? That doesn’t make sense.”
She couldn’t wait until the next brainstorming session. Ingraham called Rinehardt on the phone and said, “It’s the homeless kids.” That’s who they needed to help. So, they started a non-profit called “We Live We Learn.”
For almost three years, they’ve developed their plan and they’ve built relationships to help advance their cause, and now they’re working toward raising capital so that they can launch something they think will make an overwhelmingly positive impact for so many.
Their vision includes a physical environment, a bit like a boarding school with dorm-style living for kids. Young adults that have aged out of foster care at 18 could be set-up in micro apartments to help them experience independent living.
In all, a 36-month program where the staff would focus on helping each participant heal from the trauma they’ve experienced and are still experiencing. After about a year, individuals enrolled in the program would be assigned to a life coach who could help to create an individual life plan.
The environment would be “trauma-informed” in every way, heavily informed by neuroscience, Rinehardt said. They’ll attempt to de-institutionalize any building that’s part of the program and they’ll take into consideration all of the design elements that impact behavior and cognitive ability, an area where they can really let their skillsets shine through using natural light, biophilia, textures, colors, sounds and smells. Rinehardt said they want it to feel like home, like “you’re in the safest place you’ve ever been.”
Each dorm room would sleep three because a lot can go wrong with two to a room, and someone might feel isolated if they slept in a room alone. Three is a balanced number, Miller said. “It’s a tie breaker.”
We Live We Learn has already outlined campaigns they’ll implement like “We See You.” Young homeless people spend their early lives learning how to fly under the radar and stay off the grid. In essence, they’re invisible, the three said almost in unison.
“To be able to look them in the eye and say I see you, and not only do I see you, I’m here for you and I’m going to do something to help you… Let me in,” Is the way Rinehardt explained that particular campaign.
Helping the Cause
We wanted to use the Apple Peeled to help our friends spread the word about such an amazing cause. They’re winning at life and it’s inspiring.
There are still hurdles to climb and funds to be raised. We Live We Learn is targeting Baltimore for their first facility, though they would like to expand into other cities after that. There is a growing sense of urgency within the group. Even though it’s very difficult to account for and to calculate the precise number of homeless children in the country, evidence exists that the population is growing rapidly, especially within the LGBTQ community, the fastest growing group of young people on the street.
“By the time a kid becomes homeless, every adult in their life has failed them,” Rinehardt said. Still, she said, it’s a problem being ignored by so many who assume it has nothing to do with them. “The problem that you’re choosing not to address, or you don’t want to look at, is your problem too. Or it will be your problem, in many ways. When we take responsibility for these children, then the future is better for everybody.