By Cynthia Lescalleet
For The Leader
When he isn’t building custom homes, Justin Gordon is building community in Leader-area neighborhoods.
Many of the area’s schools, service organizations, esplanades and cross-promotion fundraising events carry his creative-but-caring stamp. His efforts – and results – make him the 2015 Leader of the Year.
Gordon, 34, is both affable and shy. He’s known to observe, then to jump in where there’s perceived need. Here’s his secret: “People talk to me,” he says.
Community work appears to be Gordon’s hobby, particularly, he says, if there’s physical labor involved. “I need the workout and it’s good for me,” he says, meaning the service and the exertion.
“Justin really puts himself out there to raise money or awareness,” says David Lorms of Lorms Insurance Services and president/founder of The Oaks Business Association.
Gordon has a lot of ideas, but he also takes action — often before needs are even expressed, Lorms says. “He is the go-to person regarding the need to help people.”
And, he really enjoys helping people, Lorms says. “He has a huge heart.”
Gordon also has a large work truck, which was a handy rescue tool during the Memorial Day floods; he fished out a dozen stranded travelers from area streets and also towed the fire department’s equipment to higher ground.
Other examples of his actions include the new digital signage at Stevens Elementary School and student field trips to one of his construction sites, where participants received special measuring tapes to remember their outing. Meanwhile, in adopting esplanades, Gordon and his company’s efforts have planted city-approved trees on segments of Ella and T.C. Jester boulevards and 43rd Street, and doubled the trees in Oak Forest Park.
“He exemplifies the meaning of volunteering and giving back to the community,” says Patricia Dornak, executive director of MANNA (Ministry Assistance of the Near Northwest Alliance).
A MANNA board member, Gordon is also a regular contributor to the organization’s food pantry operations. Every week, he loads and unloads inventory from the service truck, which he has been driving ad hoc recently since the organization seeks a permanent one.
Dornak describes Gordon as a sincere, supportive and innovative MANNA member. And, he’s a bit of a Pied Piper around the community because others want to help when he asks. “We’ve stepped up our game a lot because of him,” she says.
An example is MANNA’s inaugural Thanksgiving Turkey Tailgate, which fried up and distributed 150 turkeys. The collaborative event with the Foster YMCA (he’s a board member there, too), benefit ted families served by each organization.
However, it is Gordon’s role as father to Anna, 6, that most impresses Dornak. “He’s a parent who is instilling in her life the importance of giving back to the community.”
Father and daughter have a standing weekly date in the Oak Forest Elementary School cafeteria once a week, Gordon says.
The man has a lot of energy — and he knows how to use it, say his fellow board members at MANNA, the Harriet and Joe Foster YMCA and The Oaks Business Association.
Billy Hartman of Hartman & Associates Real Estate is one of them. “Justin truly has a ‘servant’s heart’,” he says. “He loves to give. He wants to be part of a community and he wants to know that he has helped. He truly wants to make a difference.”
Even if his efforts sometimes draw criticism, Gordon keeps going, learning from the experience, Hartman says. The esplanades, for example, which were Gordon’s initial forays into community boosting, drew opposing opinions on their plantings.
Gordon says he has learned to accept the responsibilities that come from deeds when they encounter challenges. It doesn’t stop him from trying.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s ideas tend to ramp up the fun factor, Hartman says.
For a soft-spoken man, Gordon’s actions ring loud.
National Night Out, for example, included camel rides, and the proceeds benefitted MANNA. A Winter Wonderland, also held at his home’s block in Oak Forest, featured 25,000 pounds of snow.
And then there was “Superhero Chauffeur,” when he appeared in a Batman suit and provided the high-end luxury car at an auction benefitting MANNA. The high bid brought a student a mighty sweet ride to school. (He plans to offer the same arrangement at the Oak Forest Elementary School spring gala.)
Just being around Gordon can make you want to get involved in one of his community projects, Hartman says. “His service is contagious.”
At the core
Gordon attributes his community involvement to core values like “be helpful” and “be respectful to others” learned in his LaPorte childhood and traditional education at St. Thomas Episcopal School.
Previously a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Gordon currently helps out the YMCA’s satellite operations. “Kids need structure, support or somewhere to go,” he says of that mission.
Gordon believes that in being approachable and observant, he has been able to plug into needs.
He’s quick to share the limelight, however, and says he appreciates the help that comes forward to support so many causes in the community, from collaborating ideas to making them happen. “I’m never at a loss for help from others. I truly wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”
Since earning a marketing degree from University of Pittsburgh (he attended there to experience the cold and snow, as he recalls), Gordon has sampled career paths, from advertising to teaching fourth grade.
Previously a Timbergrove Manor resident, he came to Oak Forest as a builder in 2009 but quickly determined it was a community he could call home. “There’s an excitement in the neighborhood,” he says.
As a resident, however, he began to notice things, and started to take action. Even at work, where about 23 tons of reusable building materials have been diverted to ReUse Houston.
“I like the fabric of everything here,” he says. That includes how the civic groups and business owners share ideas on achieving common goals.
“If there’s a good cause, I want to get behind it,” Gordon says. “I’m trying to have a positive impact.”
He also builds homes.