7801 Deercreek Club Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32256
Nationwide, REALTORS® have a reputation for being leaders when it comes to giving back to their communities, and the Northeast Florida Association of REALTORS® (NEFAR) is proud to see one of its own receive national recognition.
Longtime NEFAR member MaliVai Washington, the owner/broker of Diamond Life Realty, has been selected as one of five winners of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2022 Good Neighbor Award. He is being recognized for his fervent 26-year commitment to the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, a nonprofit he founded to serve at-risk youth through after-school mentoring and quality tennis instruction in Durkeeville, one of Jacksonville’s most dangerous and poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
As a national Good Neighbor Award winner, MaliVai will receive $10,000 for his nonprofit. Washington and the other Good Neighbor winners will be feted during NAR’s REALTOR® Convention and EXPO on November 12 in Orlando. The four other Good Neighbor Award winners are Jennifer Barnes of Keller Williams Realty in Brookhaven, Georgia, for Solidarity Sandy Springs; Dennis Curtin, Legacy Investments of Kansas City, Missouri for Mimi’s Pantry; Jim Edmonds of Emerald Isle Properties, Kilauea, Hawaii, for Permanently Affordable Living Kaua’i; and Heather Griesser La Pierre of RE/MAX Preferred Newtown Square in Pennsylvania for Kids Against Hunger Philadelphia.
More than 129,000 votes were cast online for the Web Choice Favorite. Kathy Opperman of Long & Foster Collegeville in Pennsylvania was the winner and received $2,500 for Pillars of Light and Love. The two runners-up were Debbie Miller of Webpro Realty in Lakeland, Fla., for kidsPACK, and Lisa Hoeve of Coldwell Banker Woodland Schmidt in Holland, Michigan for Hope Pkgs. Each runner-up received $1,250 for their charity.
“I am so proud of the contributions that our rock-star NEFAR member MaliVai Washington has made through his MaliVai Youth Foundation to our community as well as the recognition he has garnered by winning NAR’s Good Neighbor Award. His work to break the cycle of poverty in Durkeeville truly makes a difference in the lives of our young people in Northeast Florida,” said 2022 NEFAR President Mark Rosener. “In general, most NEFAR members are dedicated to giving back to the community. MaliVai takes that dedication to an extreme level as he gives extensively of his time and expertise to young people who are near and dear to his heart.”
MaliVai began playing tennis at the age of five and won his first title at eight years old. At the University of Michigan, he was twice named an All-American and finished his sophomore year ranked as the NCAA #1 tennis player in the nation. In 1996, when he reached the finals at Wimbledon, he became the first African American man to reach a grand-slam singles final since Arthur Ashe. That same year he created the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation. Over the past 26 years, MWYF has expanded to include a youth center and adjacent teen center that serve 500 kids annually through a comprehensive development program of academic tutoring, leadership skills, financial training, and fitness. The foundation’s program boasts a 100% high school graduation rate, a major feat considering the dropout rate in Durkeeville is 20%.
This year is not the first time MaliVai has been recognized by NAR in the Good Neighbor competition. In 2007, MaliVai was honored as one of 10 finalists for the award. At that time, he received an honorable mention and a $2,500 grant, a $500 Lowes gift card, and was profiled in REALTOR® Magazine. At that time, he was selected from 320 finalists.
Winning the 2022 NAR Good Neighbor Award is “an acknowledgment of what the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation has done during the last 26 years,” MaliVai said. “To get this award locally was tremendous, and the recognition throughout Florida was tremendous. But to be recognized by the National Association of REALTORS® on a national level was really special,” he said, adding that the NAR Good Neighbor Award is “right up there with other awards I have gotten. This award stands out as much as the ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award I received in 2009 because it represents the acknowledgment of my peers.”
MaliVai started playing tennis when he was a preschooler. When he was 12, his father further stimulated his interest by taking his family to the US Open. “I fell in love with competitive tennis while sitting in the nosebleed section of the Old Louie Armstrong Stadium, MaliVai recalled. “When I was there, I got a couple of autographs, and I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
MaliVai also became interested in real estate at a very early age. “I think it was because I played Monopoly so much growing up that I discovered a big interest in real estate,” he said. “I was fascinated with the idea of owning a piece of property, standing in a house, and being able to say, ‘I just bought this. I own this.’”
In February 1997, MaliVai injured his knee while playing in the Davis Cup tournament for the United States against Brazil in Brazil. The knee injury was the beginning of the end of his tennis career and the start of his real estate career. “I had surgery that spring, and this was before the internet so I would look in the newspaper and read the classified ads looking for property for sale. I happened across an ad for a real estate course and decided to jump in. It was with the Florida Real Estate Institute over in Orange Park. On Day 1 they started talking about fingerprinting. I wondered, ‘Why in the world would I need to get fingerprinted to take a real estate class?’ I didn’t realize that the class I was taking was the class to get my real estate license. I went through the class, got my license, and put it with friends of mine – Kim Davis and George Spohrer of Ponte Vedra Beach Realty. It was almost by accident that I got my license. I just had some time on my hands and wanted to learn more about real estate. I have been a REALTOR® ever since and a NEFAR member in good standing for 25 years,” he said.
Tennis also led him to set up his youth foundation. The business and personal skills he acquired have provided a synergy between both his real estate business and foundation work. “The two work off each other,” MaliVai said. “The reputation I have built in the real estate industry has helped me in my youth foundation. Everything I do in the community with my foundation impacts what I do as a REALTOR® and vice versa. Having high standards and being ethical is vitally important whenever you are raising money. Believe me, every REALTOR® has faced a situation where they could have done something that would help them as a REALTOR® but would not necessarily be the best thing for their client. If you are always putting your client first, you are setting yourself up for success, and that is the same approach I hold for my youth foundation.”
MaliVai was in his mid-20s on tour when neighborhood organizers would ask him to do a tennis clinic or talk to children in their programs. His father, who often traveled with him, suggested that he set up a youth foundation to handle the requests. “At first, it was called the Mal Washington Foundation. We didn’t have any programming. There were just grant applications and no follow-up processes,” MaliVai recalled, noting that at the end of 1996 and in early 1997, the foundation started creating programs. “I had ideas of what I wanted to do so I brought on Terry Florio, my current executive director. She’s been with us for 26 years, which is unheard of in the nonprofit world. We started brainstorming about what we could do by combining tennis and Jacksonville.”
First came a partnership with the Boy’s and Girls’ Clubs to introduce underserved children to the sport of tennis. At that time, MaliVai was still traveling on tour and wanted to come home and play a couple of sets of tennis with some kids. “What allowed me to kickstart the foundation was the fact that my tennis fame was at its height,” he said. “When I was off tennis for eight months due to knee surgery, it allowed me to spend a significant amount of time meeting with City Council people, community leaders, and CEOs of corporations. I told them, ‘Hey, I’m Mal Washington, and I want to start an organization here in town that will expose kids to tennis. Having the partnership with the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs was good, and it had its intended effect. Later we realized that we could provide a little bit more, such as our own afterschool program for 25 kids. We called it T N’ T – Tennis and Tutoring. Over the years, we have added life skills, and we have gone from 25 kids in one school year to 50 kids the next year, to 75 kids the next. We worked with the Sheriff of Jacksonville, the mayor, and the city council to find a challenged area within the city. The 32209 ZIP code in Jacksonville was challenged in terms of violent crime, teenage pregnancy, and teenage dropout rate. We took some of the best practices, conducted a capital campaign, and built our youth center. As we continued to grow, we realized what we were doing was successful. We expanded to incorporate a teen program and worked to raise the money to build a teen center. In the summer of 2020, in the heart of COVID, we opened our teen center,” he said.
Included in the capital campaign for the teen center was the creation of a $1 million endowment that MaliVai wants to continue to grow.
“Long after I’m gone, and my current staff is gone, we want the foundation to continue to survive and thrive,” MaliVai continued. “Our programs are not about trying to serve the greatest number of kids but to give the children we are serving the highest quality program that we can over an extended period. There are kids in our program that started in the second grade and will still be with us when they graduate from high school. That sustainable effort is the greatest impact we can have on kids, and we want our program to be sustained and to continue to have an impact on kids for generations to come.”
MaliVai feels strongly that it is important for REALTORS® to be leaders in their community. Part of that leadership is giving back any way you can, he said. “REALTORS® should find something in their community they are passionate about. They shouldn’t pursue that passion because they want to win a future award. They should pursue that passion for passion’s sake and for giving back’s sake. It could be something to do with animals, the environment, kids, the elderly, or literacy. There are a thousand different ways they can give back to the community. It is a very good thing to give back for the sake of giving back, and it is also good karma. When you do that over an extended period, people in your community, your local REALTORS®, and the folks in your state and in the nation will see the impact that you are having and that will be recognized,” he continued.
“REALTORS® can be Good Neighbors by sharing their knowledge of real estate with young people. I’m a huge advocate of owning real estate. Whether it is the house you are living in or whether you own income-producing property, there is no greater wealth builder than real estate. When I try to relay that to young people, sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. But what I am trying to do is plant that seed of homeownership and of owning real estate long-term. One of my former students bought her first property in the fall of 2021 and she told me she wanted her daughter to grow up in a house where her daughter had a bedroom. Not living with Grandma, but in her own house. Her words have always stuck with me. When I was growing up, I lived in a house my parents owned. I would hear my dad say that he was sending in his mortgage payment. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but I grew up in a mindset that it was just a foregone conclusion that someday I was going to own a house. There are millions of people for whom this is not a reality. REALTORS® have this knowledge that they can share and spread. Obviously, when we buy and sell real estate, we are helping ourselves and our families, but we are also helping the real estate industry and the good name of REALTORS® in the community. We are providing housing for individuals. Every single person needs a place to live. In a small way, we are solving the housing problem in America.”
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