While it’s difficult to single out one hero story, one that resonates with me is when Juliann Ashcraft brought her four children to our Homes for Heroes headquarters. Her husband, Andrew, was an American Hero. As a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Andrew died while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. Homes for Heroes was one of many organizations and individuals who donated to the Ashcraft family in the wake of the tragedy. It was an honor to personally meet Juliann and her children. I’m so grateful my organization continues to support heroes in need through our foundation, which provides grants to help ease challenges for heroes and their families. It’s rare that I’m able to personally meet heroes we support through the foundation or the Homes for Heroes program. So, I always look forward to seeing photos of our heroes using their cashback reward and reading their testimonials of how honored and humbled they were to be thanked. Our real estate affiliates continue to help ensure we’re pursuing our mantra to thank every American Hero we can.
Ruth Johnson is the CEO of Homes for Heroes and one of the founders. With more than 40 years of real estate experience, Ruth is considered a pioneer in the business world. She has managed and owned her own real estate franchise. And, today is committed to thanking every American Hero as she continues to grow Homes for Heroes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began in real estate nearly 41 years ago and immediately knew I wanted to be in the industry long-term. My son approached me shortly after the terror attacks on 9/11/2001, after hearing a speech by President George W. Bush where he called upon the strength of our communities to carry us through this tragedy. In the days following, we witnessed communities coming together and President Bush encouraged this behavior to continue and reminded business owners to become more involved in their communities. This speech resonated with us, and we organized Homes for Heroes.
The program is our way to help strengthen business ties in our communities by saying “thank you” to those who serve our nation and our communities every day. When a hero buys, sells or refinances a home our specialists help them save money. In 2008, the company went national and we created a foundation to help heroes in dire need. Today, we have nearly 3,000 specialists across the country who take care of local heroes including firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, military, healthcare professionals and teachers. Our mission is to provide extraordinary savings to those who provide extraordinary services every day. And, our mantra is to thank every hero in the nation, in some way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting and unexpected thing we have found is that many of our affiliated real estate professionals have built their entire real estate career around our program. Embracing the Homes for Heroes program provided a starting point for them to support more organizations in their community. We have real estate professionals who stop by fire stations to cook breakfast for their firefighters or another who created a Hero of the Month program to recognize heroes in their community. While I expected the Homes for Heroes program to be embraced and help local real estate professionals become more connected to their communities, I could have never expected the passion, heart, and generosity from so many agents.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t think of a funny mistake, but one of my favorite stories is about an obstacle we overcame. We didn’t have enough funds for a website that would connect heroes to affiliates in their area. My sister Helen taped maps to a wall and when a hero registered, she would go to the appropriate map and find the post-it note with the affiliate’s contact information. She would then call the affiliate to provide the hero’s information. As you can imagine — this was cumbersome. As we approached the 100-affiliate mark and with more and more heroes registering, it became almost comical to hear her in the map room trying to connect the dots. She called it her “Fred Flintstone” database. Needless to say, she was thrilled when we could finally afford to build the technology. Proof that if you are determined, you will find a way!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
In 2008, we organized the Homes for Heroes Foundation, a 501(c)(3), private foundation to complete our Circle of Giving. Homes for Heroes donates a percentage of revenue each month to the foundation. When a hero works with one of our local Homes for Heroes specialists, they are joining the Circle of Giving. Not only are they saving money, but they are also helping to fund the Homes for Heroes Foundation. We just celebrated the milestone of more than 50 million dollars given back to more than 31,000 heroes on their real estate transactions and have provided more than 675,000 dollars in support to heroes in need through our foundation.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
There are so many stories and each one inspires us to keep growing our program and mission to thank those who serve so selflessly. While it’s difficult to single out one hero story, one that resonates with me is when Juliann Ashcraft brought her four children to our Homes for Heroes headquarters. Her husband, Andrew, was an American Hero. As a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Andrew died while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. Homes for Heroes was one of many organizations and individuals who donated to the Ashcraft family in the wake of the tragedy. It was an honor to personally meet Juliann and her children. I’m so grateful my organization continues to support heroes in need through our foundation, which provides grants to help ease challenges for heroes and their families.
It’s rare that I’m able to personally meet heroes we support through the foundation or the Homes for Heroes program. So, I always look forward to seeing photos of our heroes using their cashback reward and reading their testimonials of how honored and humbled they were to be thanked. Our real estate affiliates continue to help ensure we’re pursuing our mantra to thank every American Hero we can.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- I would like to see all states allow rebates on real estate transactions. Homes for Heroes recognizes our American Heroes by offering a thank you rebate after they buy or sell a home. We continue to pursue efforts to have old laws changed as we work toward thanking every hero in our nation.
- Each and every business is a part of a community and I think it’s important for owners to find ways to connect with others in that community. As a business owner myself, I’ve adopted this attitude and believe it helps strengthen the relationship I have with my community along with helping support my business.
- Thank a hero! There are heroes all around us, and they often go unnoticed until a disaster strikes. A “thank you” can go a long way for those who put their lives on the line for us every day.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
A true leader is someone others want to follow. They have vision, courage, integrity, humility and focus along with the ability to plan strategically and clearly communicate their vision and strategies. They seek individuals who balance and challenge their weaknesses as they recognize and acknowledge the talents they lack. A leader cannot have an ego that gets in the way of what’s best for the company and its mission.
In my opinion, a leader creates a ripple effect by coaching and supporting leaders who in return coach and support future leaders. At Homes for Heroes, I’ve been blessed to find incredible people who comprise our leadership team and take our company to the next level.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Being a fiercely independent person and entrepreneur, I’m not sure I would have listened. We can always look back at mistakes, but an entrepreneur could not take an idea and see it through to success without the ups and downs along the way. This is how we learn. If we knew in advance the struggle we would have, we may not have persisted. My advice to others is if you believe in your idea, block the outside noise and stay focused on your dream.
- How long it takes to grow a company organically and without outside investors. We just really had no idea and were naïve in our projections of the time it would take. Don’t get me wrong, organic growth is good and what we have built took time, and it’s solid. And, we have embraced every milestone.
- Don’t pay someone to make your idea a reality, especially if it’s still just an idea. I knew we had a great idea and there was immense potential for Homes for Heroes. During the early years, we tried to bring on a CEO to lead Homes for Heroes twice, and it didn’t work out. I believe an entrepreneur should plan to lead the company until they are either no longer able to or until the company is in a successful place and requires additional talent to take it to the next level.
- It’s okay if the model needs to change. Sometimes we can be resistant to the thought of change. Trust your own judgment.
- Lift each other up and recognize it is hard work being an entrepreneur. If you have an idea for a business and are committed to it, but decide you don’t want to borrow money or bring in investors, it is totally consuming. There are naysayers, copycats, and daily hurdles. I am proud of what we have overcome to make the dream of Homes for Heroes a reality.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I don’t see myself as a person of enormous influence, but I believe together we can do something extraordinary — we can all afford to take a minute to recognize and thank our nation’s heroes. I would encourage everyone to go out of their way to thank local firefighters, EMS, healthcare providers or police officers who drop everything when an emergency arises. Thank a teacher who is helping shape our communities through education. Thank a veteran who has put his or her life on the line for us. These are often our unsung heroes who go unrecognized until a disaster happens. At Homes for Heroes, we are thanking those who serve our nation and its communities through our network and I am proud of the work we have done. Our mantra is to thank every hero in the nation, in some way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are many quotes that have inspired me in my life and work. The most important life lesson I think we can learn is “you can’t see the future through the lens of the past.” My life choices have resulted in many highs and lows, and if I were to focus on failures and blaming others, I couldn’t possibly find the energy it takes to build again. I choose to look at the future and let the past go (because it’s already gone).
Another quote I love is by Seth Godin, “If you want to make a long-term impact, build the roads.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Having a private meeting with Warren Buffet (@WarrenBuffett) is on my bucket wish list! I have met many successful people who I admire and follow, but Mr. Buffet has inspired me the most. His principles and unique way of looking at business and life speak to me. His life and family values, sense of humor and humbleness have truly been traits I’ve tried to emulate.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Homes for Heroes website:HomesForHeroes.com
Homes for Heroes Foundation website: HomesForHeroesFoundation.org
LinkedIn Ruth Johnson: Linkedin Ruth Johnson
LinkedIn Homes for Heroes: Linkedin Homes for Heroes
Facebook — Ruth Johnson: Facebook Ruth Johnson
Facebook — Homes for Heroes: Facebook Homes for Heroes
Instagram — Homes for Heroes: Instagram Homes for Heroes
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!