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New Story Builds Shelter and Second Chances

When two of New Story’s four co-founders took a mission trip to Haiti in 2013, they were shocked to find how many families were still living in tents after the devastating 2010 earthquake. What was supposed to be a temporary shelter built to last six months had turned into the new standard of living for countless families.

The young entrepreneurs returned to the United States and thought, “What if we could fund a home for one family? What if we found a way to get just one family into a home?”

“They didn’t have the intent to start a charity but found it difficult to find a charity they could trust where they would actually see the impact of their donations,” explains Sarah Lee, New Story’s donor experience director. “They started asking for help in identifying a family and were connected with their two other co-founders.”

In 2015, Brett Hagler, Mike Arrieta, Alexandria Lafci and Matthew Marshall launched New Story, a non-profit “working to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode.” Since its inception, the organization has funded the building of more than 1,300 homes for more than 5,000 people in Haiti, El Salvador and Bolivia.

The New Story concept has struck a chord with many—desirous to help those in need but confused about where to donate and unsure about where their contributions would actually go. New Story changes all of that, as donations go to one very tangible result: a home for a family who has no shelter. The charity’s “100% promise” means that 100 percent of donations go directly to hire local workers and buy local materials.

“At Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate, we believe that a safe and sustainable home is the very foundation of a person’s health and happiness,” says Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC, a New Story partner. “Each day, our network of affiliated brokers and agents make the dream of homeownership possible. Through our strategic alliance with New Story, we are further evolving our mission of empowering homeownership and extending our brand’s service commitment well beyond the borders of the cities, states and countries we already serve.”

“A safe home provides the foundation for health, education and opportunity,” agrees Sotheby’s Intl. Realty Affiliates President and CEO Philip White. “When I met Brett Hagler and the New Story team, I felt inspired by their mission to build sustainable homes for those in need. Teaming up with New Story as a charitable partner allowed us to extend the services we provide daily: to help people discover homes that allow them to live their best life. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the Sotheby’s Intl. Realty network in support of this mission.”

Building Homes…and Beyond
According to Lee, New Story’s 100-percent model has been a driving factor in attracting corporate sponsors. “There’s not any question about where the money is really going,” says Lee. “That’s been a huge catalyst of our success.”

What also makes New Story unique is a model that enlists local partners in the countries where homes are being built, triggering a ripple effect that creates jobs and boosts the local economy. “This is not like Habitat for Humanity,” Lee explains. “By hiring local labor, we have a local economic impact above and beyond the feel-good impact.”

“New Story does a great job of sharing the real-life impact of the money given,” says Dave Ness, an agent with Thrive Real Estate in Denver. “We’re able to see authentic video footage of the exact families we help on the other side of the world. They also source local workers and materials, further supporting the local economy in an effort to also help them become self-sustaining.”

Enlisting local partners necessitates a rigorous vetting process when it comes to choosing locations. “We need to go where governments are willing to work with us and communities are willing to work with us,” explains Lee. “We don’t just build one house—we build entire communities. So, we need to find locations where there is enough land.”

Of course, working with local partners and governments, as opposed to sending in teams of American workers, presents various hurdles for New Story, as well. “As Americans, we think, ‘We have the money. We’re ready to build. Why didn’t we start yesterday?'” says Lee. “But one of our big challenges is working with local governments and local labor in such a way that balances their approach to business and our need for efficiency and effectiveness for those people entrusting us with their donations. What are the process and technology improvements we need to make? How many partners do we need in one country? How much building do we do in one country at a time? It’s really about balancing our local partners’ desires and their understanding of the local community while still pushing innovation. It’s a balance of listening to them, but not allowing us or them to stay stuck in ‘This is how it’s always been done.'”

But New Story’s efforts to enlist local partnership is paying off in more than just roofs over heads. Through surveys conducted with families before they move into their newly built home and then three, six and nine months afterwards, New Story is seeing an impact on the entire community, in terms of increased incomes, better education and access to medical care. “Because we involve local partners, the impact is far greater than just a home,” says Lee.

Addressing the Needs
While there are certainly housing needs around the globe, New Story’s goal is not to be in as many countries as possible, but rather, to go deep in critical areas. The organization also works with its local partners to develop a process for determining who will receive a New Story home.

In Haiti’s tent community, for example, families participated in surveys to see if they qualified for a home (to make sure, for example, that they did not have an alternative housing option), and then entered a lottery system. In El Salvador, however, members of the community came together to determine which families had the greatest need.

The style of the homes also varies depending on the location. While in El Salvador, homes are built in a connected fashion, as people value close proximity to one another, in Haiti, families are accustomed to space between their homes. Once again, says Lee, “We bring the locals into the process—we don’t build something one way because we think it’s best.”

New Story also realizes that to make a larger impact, they will need to go beyond their individual efforts. “There are hundreds of millions of people living in survival mode,” says Lee. “We’re not naïve enough to think that over the next 10 years, that we as a nine-person organization are even going to put a dent in that number. The biggest thing we are looking to do in the future is constantly be practitioners of this work, and also develop technology and platforms that will help other organizations do the same thing in other countries.

“And fundraising is a huge piece,” she adds. “The more partnerships we can cultivate, the more exponential our growth rate will be.”

However, fundraising in today’s world has never been tougher because, as Lee points out, there are so many needs. “Everywhere you look, disaster is happening. So many people feel paralyzed by all the options,” she says. “But we view New Story as a charity you can trust and see the exact impact of your donations. And on the back-end, it’s super empowering. These homes become a lifeline for so many.”

And perhaps real estate agents understand the impact of New Story’s work better than anyone else. “To be able to use their work and income to provide the power of a home to families that otherwise would never have the opportunity is a really cool tie-in to what they’re dedicating their lives to,” says Lee.

“When we were first introduced to New Story, we were immediately taken with their mission,” says Sotheby’s Intl. Realty Director of PR and Communications Lindsey Scharf. “Our brand believes that the home is the epicenter of your life. As we began to roll out the New Story partnership to our global network, we were overwhelmed by the positive feedback and proud to have the opportunity to give back to communities all over the world in such a meaningful and life-changing way.”

“We’re unbelievably fortunate to be in the situation we are in here in Denver, both economically and in terms of housing,” says Ness. “For us, it was a no-brainer to engage the global housing issue through New Story. We’re in the housing business, so it makes sense to help those who lack housing.”

“Housing is our livelihood,” says Chris Ratay, an agent with RE/MAX Alliance. “Now we can help build and create not just a home, but a safe place and a stronger community.”

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Patterson_Maria_60x60Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark