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One dollar at a time, it's all coming together in Harlem.

Many years ago, I was told an aphorism that supposedly came from Winston Churchill that said substantially the following: "Those who aren't idealists at twenty and realists at forty haven't fully lived".

In retrospect, my life has followed that prescribed course. I was born in 1950 to working class parents and I was raised to be educated, respectful, hard working, skillful and self reliant. When I turned twenty the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement were at the forefront of American life and their impact on my development would prove to have profound and lasting implications.

I could not ignore obvious social injustices and I could not support a war with dubious objectives, which was why I was naturally attracted to the rapidly growing idealistic hippie movement. I loved the camaraderie and solidarity with new and diverse people unified by a desire for peace, harmony and societal change. I took part in radical protests and campus takeovers and eventually dropped out of college, disillusioned with contemporary values that seemed driven by self-interests and a lack of concern for others. I refused to fully engage in an establishment I viewed as unfair and unjust, and so I followed a path more aligned with my changing mores. I was a rebel with a cause.

During the ensuing years I strove to perfect romantic visions of communal reform, while advancing and honing my skills in the fields of building construction. Through my twenties I worked enthusiastically as a carpenter, plumber and electrician and helped build homes and businesses for people within our movement. During my late twenties, I met and married the woman I had dreamed of, Sheri Perl, a wonderfully caring person filled with beauty inside and out who was imbued with similar idealistic visions of transformation. Her childhood, though, was short-circuited by Crone's disease and this devastating illness changed her life significantly and ultimately navigated her towards a path of helping and healing others in need, be it physical, emotional, financial or psychological.

Our loving union brought changes to my limited and extreme perspectives as we now desired a family and I needed to support them properly. Sheri's illnesses prevented natural childbirth so we adopted, and over the course of the next ten years we were blessed with three wonderful children. To advance my earning capacity I went back to college and then to law school, while forging a business in real estate and construction.

I put on hold the romantic visions of reform for the practical demands of family rearing and business growth. I moved forward with the same energy and passion I had always displayed, and by my late thirties, I had achieved a fair amount of financial success in real estate. That success came with a heightened sense of realism and pragmatism and, although I had seemingly lost my younger ideals, they were always close to my heart.

Unfortunately, when I turned forty in 1990 real estate took a nose-dive and so did my business. I lost most of my buildings, closed my offices and took employment as a developer of properties for others, including banks and large institutions.

Over the next ten years I rebuilt over 3000 inner city apartments in countless housing complexes throughout many of the larger East Coast cities including New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Hartford, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. In the late nineties, as I approached fifty, and after surviving two bankruptcy filings, I started out again to rebuild my business by purchasing and developing vacant properties in Harlem, NY. And it was here, in Harlem, that all those years came together and I found my true calling.

I contributed and am still actively contributing to the revival of this great historical and cultural area by developing brownstones and multi-family housing for low and middle-income families. I promoted home ownership for first-time buyers and created affordable condos for civil servant workers. I built my offices and a family residence within the community and hired my workers from the area.

The financial success I achieved was a great reward for these efforts but, as I soon found, it also opened new doors for my family to "give back" to a community that needed help in so many ways. We embraced the people wholeheartedly and, through a Family Foundation we created, we have been able to help so many individuals and families in areas concerning health, education, employment, housing and general welfare.

More significantly, we have all felt so good about it. My life has become richer and more satisfying with this philanthropy and community outreach and I know it will always be a centerpiece of my remaining life. I realize though, that it is not only the giving of money that moves me, but the giving of my time and energy to people and causes I believe in, and that is something almost everyone who approaches sixty can do.

Our children are older now and, no longer demand as much time or focus. We are freer now to explore new goals and opportunities in the world of philanthropic giving, ones that I feel confident will bring new levels of self-realization and fulfillment

It has been said that good leaders are ones who are pragmatic and realistic in design and approach, while keeping within sight and talking the language of the visionary or idealist. As I approach sixty, I now understand life is not about extremes; it is not idealism or realism that should win out, but rather a blend of the two that will provide the healthiest outlook.

It is not about revolutionary societal change, but instead what's needed is incremental help from everyone, one dollar and one person at a time.

It is important to realize that sixty years represents a lot of living and, hopefully, having lived them will result in a clearer vision of the path ahead.

All those experiences you've had, both good and bad, equal the sum total of who you have become, and all those roads you've traveled have brought you to where you are. There is no turning back and your eyes point forward. So relax, look out without distorting what you see and enjoy your life by thinking and doing for others. I am sure you will find it as enjoyable and rewarding as I have.



Copyright [c] 2006 by Gerald Migdol; excerpted from Sixty Things To Do When You Turn Sixty, copyright 2006 by Ronnie Sellers Productions, Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Migdol, Gerald S.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Nov 15, 2006
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