Building the Spirit of Community Through Volunteerism

Michelle Leong Francis could be described as tenacious. The Durham Region real estate representative and REALTOR® is always up to something.

Whether that’s earning another designation in real estate, furthering her education, starting a social enterprise like The Henry Alexander House or championing a new cause. Francis’ volunteer resume is lengthy—lending her time and expertise to dozens of organizations: the City of Pickering’s Anti-Racism Task Force, the Markham Board of Trade Diversity Committee, Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Havergal College Governance and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Board of Governors, Law Society of Ontario’s Coach and Advisor Network and the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s (TRREB’s) Arbitration and Professional Standards Roster—just to name a few.

“My passion is compelling,” she says.

Francis is passionate about giving back. Her commitments range from outdoor events to fundraisers for victims of a house fire and creating the Movement for Change campaign showcasing her own initiative called L.E.O.N. (named after her late nephew, she aims to inspire youth to reveal their potential through leadership, entrepreneurship, opulence and nobility).

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How it all began

Francis’ volunteerism blossomed well before her real estate career.

“I grew up in a volunteering culture. It was always normal for me,” she says.

Francis grew up as a first generation Canadian and she credits her father, a first responder, as her inspiration.

“He spent a lot of time working in the community, teaching, mobilizing. In today’s terms, you could call him a social justice activist,” she says, noting she often tagged along. This meant she was able to meet people like Nelson Mandela. “I totally enjoyed every social event we went to, but I underestimated its value, I did not know it was building my character. I just saw it as fun—me and my dad hanging out.”

She says a car accident in 2009 further inspired her to become more political about her advocacy. Now she’s passing down the same traditions to her family, encouraging volunteerism at all ages.

“My life is volunteering,” she says.

She jokes that she lends herself to an organization or cause for short stint at a time, before she sets her sights on a new goal.

“I think the broad knowledge that I’ve gained should be shared amongst organizations. My volunteerism is how I live in compassion and gratitude” she said. “People know me because of my volunteer work, not my marketing.”

Community building

Francis explains through her volunteer work she’s built a community—a network, a team she can call on to help support her initiatives, but also a network of referrals.

“I’ve met all sorts of amazing people through my volunteer efforts, not necessarily through my corporate endeavors,” she says.

Francis says she’s always been interested in real estate and before earning her license, she had become a crew lead as a certified green general contractor renovator with two decades of experience as a landlord, but admits she had to learn by trial and error. Her vision for her future led her to formal real estate education.

“I knew right away I wanted to be a commercial REALTOR®,” she says. “I had had a life in financial planning as an advisor and I had always wanted to work with people who were very focused, like me … I love real estate, it saved my life on the road to recovery after a car accident and through relationship breakdowns. I wanted to coach and mentor others to understand that your property is not just bricks and mortar, it is an investment in a better life through demonstrated financial empowerment.”

When personal connections become clients, she knows she’s working with people who are serious and ready to build wealth through this asset class.

“I recognize that my referrals need to be vetted and this is a fantastic way of vetting my referrals,” she says.

“I have the opportunity to do what I love in both worlds and bring them together,” she says. “I can show my kids how important it is to give back to other people because you never know when you’re going to be that other person.”

Advice for REALTORS® who want to get involved

“I would ask the question, ‘Why are they not getting involved?’” she says. “If we didn’t know there was need before, from 2020 on it has been very clear.”

“The world has shown everyone who was paying attention that we’re all vulnerable, we’re all at risk. Anything can happen at any time.”

Francis says if people want to get involved in their communities, they don’t have to take a page out of her book and volunteer at multiple of organizations. “You can just start by doing something you’re excited by,” she says.

If you love going to the beach nearby, maybe spend a day cleaning up some of the trash along the shores. She notes charities and not-for-profits are always looking for volunteers with differing levels of commitment. A quick internet search can help you find an organization experience the possibilities that aligns with your passions.

“There are all kinds of ways to volunteer. There are all kinds of ways to help,” she said. Sometimes your work will get you on the front page of the newspaper, but other times your work will only make a difference to a select few.

Tips to maximize your volunteer efforts:

  • Choose an organization or cause you’re passionate about;
  • Create a fun and memorable experience;
  • Share your story and events on social media;
  • Leverage your contacts;
  • Make it easy for others to donate or volunteer; and
  • Show your appreciation.

“I think some people see volunteerism as thankless … or something that people do it for the greater gain,” she says. “I see it as something that everyone should be doing and is supposed to do as a member of this thing called society and being on this planet.”

“That kind of selflessness makes the world go ‘round,” she says.

REALTORS Care® Week 2021: Real estate boards and associations across the country rallied their REALTOR® members to volunteer their time in support of their communities November 15-21, 2021 for the third annual REALTORS Care® Week. Read more about their efforts on the REALTORS Care® blog or find more information on REALTORS Care® Week on their website.

Are you a passionate volunteer? Tell us more about the cause close to your heart in the Comments below.

Want more inspiration for your volunteering journey? Visit to learn what other REALTORS® are up to in communities across Canada.

Sarah Doktor brings her experience as a small-town journalist and national online editor to the Canadian Real Estate Association as a Communications Advisor. Sarah helps facilitate conversations between CREA and our members, boards, associations and the public via our online communities. She also helps coordinate the content presented to you here on the CREA Café. In her spare time, Sarah can be found at the gym, running on a trail or watching Netflix with her cat, Libby.

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