The Origin of United Way’s Real Estate Breakfast

Twenty years ago, real estate industry leaders Kevin Phelan and the late Edwin “Ed” Sidman thought of a new way to engage their peers and give back. By bringing the industry together, across competitors and rivals, to support the community through the United Way Breakfast, they created a successful template for other businesses and nonprofits to harness their collective power for the greater good.

“United Way was a natural fit for something like this because of the way the organization’s work is spread across the whole spectrum of need, rather than honing in on one specific issue,” Kevin Phelan said recently, reflecting on the start of the breakfast.

Kevin Phelan, then a mortgage broker at Meredith & Grew (now Colliers International) and Sidman, former Chairman of The Beacon Companies, worked to bring together the various circles within their industry.

Phelan says the partnership between he and Sidman was successful because it worked upon their strengths and because it allowed them to reach across industry, cultural and economic silos within the real estate community to bring people together.

The leadership and commitment both men showed toward their work and philanthropy were one and the same – shaping not only Boston’s skyline, but progressing the unseen work that is needed to build strong and prosperous neighborhoods. They set a high standard for business and industry leaders to follow.

Over the past 20 years, many others have stepped up to follow their lead. Previous Breakfast hosts and honorees include Norman B. Leventhal, Bill McCall, Robert Beal, and Polly Bryson, representing the best of the industry’s past, present and future. With their strong leadership, the Boston real estate industry has raised more than $33 million for the community.

“It’s wonderful to see how tremendously the event has grown over twenty years, but I really think that we’ve barely touched the surface of what could be done,” Phelan said.