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OFFICIAL MAGAZINE OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Daily Real Estate News  |  September 22, 2009  |   Small Town Angel Responds to Many Needs
Williams, Ariz., is a small town (pop. 3,000), which seems even more so by the magnificent presence of the nearby Grand Canyon.

Once a stop on the historic Route 66 and still bustling with hotels, inns, restaurants, and entertainment, Williams is a tiny sprite of a town. Each year it enchants thousands of visitors who pass through on their way to Grand Canyon National Park. What Williams lacks in size, though, it makes up for in spirit. So it seems appropriate that Williams has generated its very own “magical power” -- an angel, if you like -- in the form of Diana Croteau.

Croteau is one of 10 finalists for the Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program recognizing REALTORSŪ who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. Each week, until the five winners are announced in November, we’ll bring you the story of one of these finalists.

Williams Adopts an Angel
“I lost my daughter when she was 18. I love children. So I try to help children. I love doing volunteerism and running events and raising money to help people,” Croteau explains, of her drive to help others. After moving to Williams from Phoenix 10 years ago, she realized that many areas of the community needed help. “It soon became my vision to make a difference in the lives of both young and old in Williams.”

So Croteau got to work, creating Easter egg hunts for local children in need and providing holiday meals and gifts to low-income families. “Our reward is through seeing the joy on the faces of those who would not have a hot meal or a new toy to play with without this event,” says Croteau. “An elderly lady put her arms around me and said ‘Thank you, we would not have had a holiday dinner without this.’”

Croteau also organizes a major Christmas event that attracts over 80,000 tourists to Williams each year, and includes a Grand Canyon Railway Polar Express for children. The two-month festival transforms the entire town into a glittering holiday wonderland, complete with sparkling lights in local parks and on business facades, garlands and wreaths on light poles, and a 50-foot-high fresh Christmas tree. But the festival isn't important just for the joy and beauty it offers. It brings vital business to the local economy and provides many jobs during the winter season.

And here’s where the angel reference comes in. In 2004, Croteau co-founded Williams Needs an Angel (WNAA), a nonprofit focused on community improvement projects, particularly those that benefit children. Through Williams Needs an Angel, Diana raised more than $200,000 to build a badly needed playground at Williams Elementary-Middle School after the old playground had been condemned and dismantled for safety reasons. “The playground was condemned for two years and it was infested with prairie dogs. There was no other playground,” Croteau says. With the new playground in place, she explains, “It’s wonderful to see the kids outside there playing.”

It Takes a Village and Croteau
In short, the vision to make a difference that Croteau had so many years ago led to a very real impact on the lives of her fellow neighbors. But she didn't know yet that she would answer the call again, this time during one of the darkest hours for the town of Williams.

In 2007, five local youths, ranging in age from 15 to 21, were killed in a single car accident. “It was devastating to the entire community. We had to go to five funerals in two days. The whole town was at the funerals,” says Lindie Rodgers, treasurer of WNAA. “When something like that happens in town the ‘Angels’ get together. Usually it’s Diana. It wasn't even a thought. It happened and Diana called me and I said ‘What do I need to do?’”

“I called one of the local restaurant owners and said, ‘We need to do something to help,’” recalls Croteau. So she, along with Rodgers and several others, turned their grief into action and organized a benefit auction and dinner. They asked local businesses and the entire community for support. “Diana came up with so many donations for the auctions. She must have worked 24/7 on it. She put the whole thing together and also worked it right up until very end,” remembers Rodgers.

Just five days after the accident, Croteau and her fellow volunteers had raised $30,000, which increased to $55,000 over the next several months, all of which went to individual bank accounts set up by Croteau for each family. “That's the way the community is,” Croteau says. “When there’s a crisis you pull together and you do what you have to do to help people.”

Carol Glassburn, chairman of WNAA, agrees. "Diana's willingness to bring the community together to help out the families let everyone know that Williams is definitely a caring, loving place to live."

"She Would Prove Me Wrong Every Time"
Indeed, it’s this positive spirit that motivates not only Diana but those around her as well. “When Diana first became involved with the community and began to tell me of her plans for an event or fundraiser, I would tell her that it couldn’t be done and she would prove me wrong every time,” says Connie Hiemenz, chairperson of the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce. “When she heard the word ‘can’t’ she said ‘watch me.’ She is an amazing and creative person who has positively impacted the lives of our youth and our community in countless ways.”

Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, five winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and will be honored at the REALTORSŪ Conference & Expo in San Diego on November 14. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause. To learn about the other finalists, go to REALTOR.org/GNA.

The Good Neighbor Awards is supported by eNeighborhoods, Homes.com, and Lowe’s.

--Amy Konstas

To learn more about Williams Needs an Angel, contact Croteau at dianacroteau@earthlink.net or www.realestateinwilliams.com.

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