Sunday, August 28, 2011
Builder offers youth a bright future
Gil Blutrich of Skyline International Developments, picture at the King Edward Hotel, runs Bright Future, a program for youth at risk in his hometown of Ra’anana, Israel.
Gil Blutrich wasn’t a stellar student, yet at age 16 started his own business selling and manufacturing glass terrariums and became the youngest entrepreneur in Israel.
Years later, as a successful real estate developer, he became frustrated by simply writing checks for charities and wanted “to see the whites of the eyes of the people I’m helping.” Yet when he offered his volunteer services to an organization, he never was called back.
That’s when he decided he wanted to work with youth at risk in his hometown of Ra’anana and went to the mayor to explain an idea he had; to mentor a group of 16-year-olds and teach them how to become entrepreneurs.
Blutrich and city representatives started a non-profit billboard business where the teens sold and installed signs in 150 locations. The youths were paid a salary and could earn bonuses. They participated in the program for two years.
“I decided we were going to train the kids and brainstorm as to how we could make them entrepreneurs,” explains Blutrich. “It was a partnership between me as mentor and social workers from the city.
“I gave a startup loan. Instead of a donation of $50,000, I provided seed money to purchase billboards and I got the money back in less than a year,” he reports. “Since then, the annual revenue is $400,000 in Ra’anana.”
Blutrich — who moved to Canada in 1998 and is founder and CEO of Toronto-based Skyline International Developments with a portfolio of resort and hotel properties including Muskoka’s Deerhurst Resort, the King Edward Hotel, Horseshoe Resort, Port McNicoll Resort Village, the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Pantages Hotel and Shizen Spas — still monitors the program’s progress.
“I think it’s a fantastic way to inject self esteem kids in a crucial time in their lives to give them foundation as responsible citizens.”
Under the Bright Future program, the teens have a schedule, must be organized and abide by a code of behavior, including coming to the boardroom in business attire. Ten participants are accepted into the program at a time.
“The idea behind it was to create some responsibility. I wanted to stop the vicious cycle of give, give, give, and create a business that will create kids’ salaries and save for the future,” says Blutrich. “The rest will be donated back to the community and that’s what has happened in the last 16 years.”
“It’s a potential model that could be picked up here in Canada.”
Since then, Bright Future has developed huge momentum in Israel in more than 43 municipalities and is considered one of the most successful projects in the country to deal with at-risk youth. The businesses, which operate under various names, include billboards, cafés, candle factories, landscaping, jewellery-making, artwork, cleaning, greenhouses, printing services and bakeries.
“The beauty of this is we have enough years to observe what happened to kids through process and it’s quite surprising and very positive,” says Blutrich.
One who came through the program in 1996 (in its second year) was a young man named Boaz, who had dropped out of school, had a history of drug abuse and was living on the street.
“Bright Future taught me to believe in myself as an individual and that I can become a normal and successful person despite my tough start,” says Boaz, who now owns a real estate brokerage and an office cleaning business in Israel. “I learned to adjust myself to daily schedules and how to work in a team and how to think creatively. The most important benefit for me is that the program taught me to believe in myself and I got a strong sense of confidence.”
He said the two years in Bright Future taught him the basics of sales and marketing and business management — tools he utilizes today — and opened his eyes to new opportunities.
“I learned that the ability to make a change in my life is there and it all depends on me,” he says.
Blutrich says Boaz’s story is one of numerous Bright Future success stories.
“You change the route of one person’s life, you save the world,” he says. “It’s giving them the ropes, not the fish. You teach them they have the power within themselves to make their life and future better by being proactive. You see a lifestyle change in about 85 per cent of the participants.”
Now Blutrich would love to see a similar program launch in Toronto, where there is also a large number of at-risk youth.
“The beauty of this business is the seed money is not a donation, it’s a loan, which can be provided by philanthropists,” he points out. “It’s important to build the right teams. You need a social worker involved to offer guidance and you can hire a young MBA student as CEO. For me, the most important component is finding the mentor, a guy like me who can devote time to work one-on-one with a small group of kids and is capable and motivated.
“I’m happy to assist and give direction, and I can connect people here with those who run the program in Israel for access to guidelines and procedures. It’s a cause very close to my heart.”
START YOUR ENGINES
A group of Toronto area builders and developers left construction sites and boardrooms behind on July 27 to careen around the curves at Mosport International Raceway behind the wheels of high-powered Porsches and Ferraris.
Motoamoré was held in honour of the late Rob Muzzo of the Pemberton Group, who died of cancer, and raised funds for the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation. Since the first Motoamoré in 2004, the annual event has raised in excess of $2.2 million. Although Muzzo did not receive his treatment at Toronto General, the hospital was chosen as beneficiary for its work in cancer care.
The event was conceived by him and his brother Marc, who continues the work following Rob’s death.
“The event came to life after Rob was treated at University Health Network, specifically Princess Margaret Hospital,” says Muzzo. “The idea was to help raise funds for such a great organization. We’ve participated in many fundraisers, mostly golf tournaments, but given the fact that Rob or I were not golfers, this wouldn’t apply.”
But the brothers were car fanatics.
“We knew many friends and associates with some fabulous cars but not many knew how to drive them the way they were meant to be driven,” explains Muzzo. “The thought of organizing an event at Mosport with professional drivers giving instruction on how to lap a race track really intrigued us and proved to be a successful idea. I guess no one anticipates the success of an event in its first year, but after eight years and going strong, I must say I am extremely pleased!”
Since its inception, funds have been raised for Princess Margaret Hospital and more recently, the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation.
“It’s an event not only to raise funds for some great institutions, but more so to honour the memory of a fabulous brother, son, father and husband,” says Muzzo.
Motoamoré brings together Rob Muzzo’s friends, family and business associates and has expanded to include three events: a car rally, a gala party and the track day. This year, 25 drivers tested their vehicles’ capabilities on the famous track in a controlled, closed-circuit environment, while gaining tips and experience.
The car rally was held in June, when participants drove through the Ontario countryside, making pit stops and tracking clues, followed by an evening of gourmet food and dancing. Party tickets were $500 each or a $1,500 ticket provided access to all three events.
The roster of builder/developers participating in the track day included the Pemberton Group, Rosehaven, Falcon Crest and Aspen Ridge Homes, Metrus Developments and Edilcan. Many of the participants are experienced race drivers, although some were novices. Event sponsors and doctors also joined the action.