By Kathy Day
Sometimes a little networking goes a long way.
Take a lunch meeting between Janet Lawless Christ of Coldwell Banker Previews International and Joe Allis, owner of Porshe of San Diego. Just a day after their get-to-know-you meal at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe she reached out to him to help three active duty service members.
Last spring she was watching NBC Evening News with Brian Williams’ Friday “Making A Difference” segment. It featured a program called Archi’s Acres, which helps vets transition into civilian life by teaching them about organic farming through their Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Program (VSAT).
Colin and Karen Archipley founded the program in 2007 on their farm in the hills above Escondido while he was still an active duty Marine Corps rifleman. Where a run-down avocado grove sat when they bought the farm, they now grow basil, kale, avocados and other produce for local markets while teaching others a skill for their future. It was their vision to assist vets that caught Christ’s ear.
“When I heard it was in Escondido, I nearly fell off my chair,” she said. “I called them on Monday morning and was stunned that someone — Karen — answered the phone.”
After talking to Karen Archipley, she drove up to the farm.
“My site visit was overwhelming,” the longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident said. While Christ was there she learned that service members cannot use the GI Bill to cover VSAT’s $4,500 tuition. Many require assistance for the program’s 270 hours of training, which includes job readiness instruction.
After her visit, Christ pledged to help in whatever way she could. In October, she learned about three of the students whose scholarships had fallen through due to some red tape.
“They were nearly through the program but would not have been able to graduate or get their certification,” she said. “In a different place and time I would have written the check myself.”
She began calling her philanthropic friends to help her raise the money, but didn’t have much luck. And then she had a thought.
She had “a nice lunch” with Allis on Oct. 25 and figured it was worth a try to reach out to him. The next day, she thought about calling him, but texted him instead with a message if he wasn’t on a plane to call her.
Allis, a Rancho Santa Fe resident who is the proprietor of the Miramar Road Porsche dealership, is a recently transplanted New Yorker whose family has yet to join him here. So trips back are a regular part of his routine. (In fact, he was heading East for Christmas and then back to San Diego, only to return to New York for New Year’s celebrations.)
Although he wasn’t on the plane when Christ texted, he was at the airport – heading home the same weekend as Super Storm Sandy approached. He texted back to call him.
“I gave him the fastest description and asked if he could match my funds,” she said.
Talking on Dec. 21 about that day, he said told her “I wanted to be part of it. I didn’t care how much it cost. I just told her to tell me the scope and I’ll get right on it.”
The following Monday as she was meeting with her managing broker “and throwing myself on him” in hopes that he would contribute, she noticed Allis was calling.
“He said, ‘OK , we’re in. We’re all in,’” Christ said, recalling that she figured he would give $1,000.
Instead, Allis had talked to his partners, George Athan of Audi San Diego and Jason Puga of Land Rover San Diego, and they came up with the full $13,500.
But it wasn’t until a reception honoring the grads and the donors on Dec. 11 where Allis had a chance to meet Catherine Llanas, Matt Figurski and Steve Brown – the VSAT grads they had helped – that he really learned about Archi’s Acres.
“It’s just amazing,” Allis said, talking enthusiastically about the effort to engage the vets in the sustainable agriculture program. “I so much want to get involved. There’s almost not enough circuitry in my brain not to.”
But beyond giving scholarships, he added, he and his partners are exploring ways to bring their entrepreneurial background to the table.
Logisitics, distribution and supply chains along with profit-and-loss statements and marketing are all part of the car business, he said. “That’s background they don’t have and it’s all that the three of us do.”
Just how they’ll be involved has yet to be determined. They may form a board but Allis said they want to be hands on, too.
“If I can curtail their losses, especially for these guys and gals who have given so much for their country, I want to do what I can,” he added.
Christ, who has supported a number of local causes and is heavily involved in the Rancho Santa Fe community, said she’s never directly supported a veterans’ cause in the past, although when she was part of the RSF Women’s Fund they backed efforts for the military.
“I can’t believe we’ve been at war for 10 years,” she said. “I can’t believe these are all volunteers who have been fighting for me.”
Now, she added, she’s found a way to give back and plans to do more for Archi’s Acres.
Learn more about Archi’s Acres at www.archisacres.com