Fueling The Fires Of Change

What in the world can you say about a man who is intelligent, kind, generous, hard-working, Godfearing and charismatic? You can only say that such a man is a rare, impressive and admirable jewel. That describes the bighearted philanthropist, James H. Batmasian. Almost everyone in the Boca Raton area has heard of Jim, fondly known as “Mr. B.” Some have been fortunate enough to meet him or are even luckier, in fact blessed, to know him.

Jim’s story is a tale of rags to riches and it is his early years of struggle that have made him sensitive and understanding, and able to empathize with others in similar situations. He is quick to take action to help those less fortunate who show promise and want to better themselves. Jim’s parents were born abroad, amidst devastating persecution in Armenia, a country that has been in turmoil with Turkey since When they came to America, Jim described it saying, “it was all about survival.” Jim was born here and grew up learning to manage his own survival by growing tomatoes, cutting lawns, shoveling snow and collecting bottles on the street to sell. He said, “I even helped my daddy in building homes in Bergen County, New Jersey. I was put in charge of running sewage pipes from farmhouses and covering them outside with grass.”

Later the family moved to Florida. Jim attended Coral Gables High School and then eventually went to Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. Even there it was a struggle since both the dormitory and rental apartments were unaffordable to him. “I gured out a way to buy a multi-family house with no money,” he said smiling at the quirky thought. He continued saying, “that produced $300 a month cash flow by my working the property.” This was the initial realization that affected his entire life. Jim learned that he could make money with property and without having to do hard physical labor. He “was totally amazed” and wanted that scenario to continue. “So now,” he said, “I’ve been continuing to do that for the last 50 years, and by the way, I still own that little house which has been sending me rent checks faithfully for all these years.”

A deeply religious and spiritual man, Jim felt driven to help others and once he began to accrue some funds, that was his clear aim. He wrote his first check to charity about 35 years ago. It was a huge step, and he described how his hand was shaking as he wrote it. Jim strongly believes that God blesses those who give and, he said, “God has blessed that original check a million times over both in terms of money and in the good that I have gotten back from those I’ve helped.”

About 18 years ago, Jim was aware of a housing project called Dixie Manor that was about six blocks away from his office. He had been afraid to go to the area but something told him one day that he needed to go there rst thing the next Monday morning. He went there, knocked on doors and invited many people to a study center where they were promised food, education, and social life. They were taught useful skills such as handling bank accounts, feeling a semblance of being cared for and parented, and guided in learning good life values. Jim did this for 18 years and he is very proud that the original program is still in existence though it has moved to a new location in a church and re- named “PROPEL.” It is a 5013C charity with a Board of directors. The beauty of this program is that it provides a safe, educational and fun place for children to go after school. That is the time that they are feeling most poor, hungry and needy, the perfect recipe for getting into trouble on the streets including drug dealing and other crimes that often lead to jail. The Propel program provides buses that pick up the children and take them directly to study at a Christian center. These children, from the ages of 9 to 18, have a secure place to study, have fun, get tutored, learn on computers and improve their grades. Now the program has even added the arts (music, dancing, voice, drama and art.) When they demonstrate good grades, they are eligible for a full 4 year scholarship to advanced education. The majority go to college but some choose vocational schools. The program pays for them to learn for jobs in skincare, engineering, air conditioning and more.

About 7 years ago, Jim saw a note on the bulletin at First United Methodist Church in Boca seeking volunteers to help with the homeless. Jim immediately got involved and then about a year later started his own non-prot called “Changing Lives.” Jim said, “we’ve taken close to 300 homeless off the street, removing them from drugs and alcohol. Gradually we got them jobs, rooms, and cars. We are proud that this holiday season we will be reuniting many of them with their families for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Jim met recently with Tony Lowden, a Georgia pastor who became a senior official in the Justice Department. Appointed by President Trump to lead the Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry, Lowden also serves on the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. He is noted for saying, ““Never once in my wildest dream did I think a little boy from the inner city or the hoods of North Philadelphia would get an opportunity to sit down in the Oval O‘ce and tell the president what I think is best for our communities and best for our nation.” Tony has a program in Macon, Georgia that is similar to the PROPEL program. Both Tony and Jim have volunteered to help open another PROPEL program in West Palm Beach and in Atlanta, Georgia. Jim, never one to rest, got involved in another effort in Charlotte called Opportunity Zones. He recently partnered with a man named Travis Stephans, and they bought 180 units in Charlotte, renovating them, putting in kitchens, a gym. This project creates new opportunities by using the homeless and veterans to do the work. For the next year, they are working full time, getting a paycheck and actually living in the properties. They are no longer homeless, no longer poor, they have a place to live full time. These “micro-apartments” support economic development by providing housing development and more vibrant communities. With such success, Jim is planning to duplicate by buying 150 units in Tampa.

On another note, Jim’s faith and spirituality strongly influence his personal and business thoughts and activities. He said, “I can’t even describe the satisfaction I had yesterday at the church to see 3 people come from being drunk and drugged everyday to being clean and sober, and holding down jobs.” Jim said these reformed people often ask what they can do for him, for “Mr. B.”? Jim replied, “my answer is always the same: just “pay it forward” and help others as I have helped you.” Jim did, however, make it clear that he is a big proponent of people learning to do it on their own. He does not want to just hand out money because it tends to enable them to buy more drugs or alcohol. Jim finds other ways to help. “We just bought 8 units in Dixie Manor in Pearl City that were falling apart. We may try offering an incentive of $10,000 to each owner to clean up and renovate his own place which should result in fewer crimes.”

Jim has renovated approximately 200 properties in the Boca / Deereld area, providing better office spaces, shopping, and warehouse opportunities. He describes it as combining the business sector for the social good. He said, “we don’t want to sit around and wait for the government to write us a check. We want to teach people to work and earn on their own.”

It’s astounding to witness the bustle of positive activity at the First United Methodist Church every Saturday morning from 9am to 11am. Pleased that the church is kind enough to allow use of their property, Jim visits almost every Saturday with probably 40, 50 or 60 homeless people who show up every week. They are given free food, clothes, healthy vegetable juice and more. Jim makes sure there are plenty of free Christian books which he has personally signed. He described the counseling sessions o„ered. He said, “we sit down and talk with them. We learn their problems and try to change their lives. Many agree to go to our sober homes programs–called First Step in Pompano, JC’s Recovery in Hollywood, and A New Path Life in Lantana (for women.) We pay for their free room and board, and programs. If they conform and reform, they get rewarded with jobs and vocational training. We are Changing Their Lives and that is the name of our charity.” (ChangingLives.me)

Jim recently held a Unity Day at Ebenezer Baptist Church that included 9 charitable organizations from the Boca area. They all collaborated by offering goods, services and love to so many underprivileged. Jim said, “it didn’t matter if you were White, Black, Christian, Muslim or Chinese–we all worked together for one cause: to help the less fortunate. Jim delighted in telling about some of the success stories from his programs, citing one special person named “A.J.”, a young kid in jail who turned out to be a great, hard-working contractor. Another named Don Anderson was at one time affluent and in charge of 150 employees. Jim said, “unfortunately he had turned to alcohol and drugs, was living on the streets, landed in jail, and was shunned by his family. Don sought me out for help at a point when he was able to show he had been sober for about 30 days. I felt Don was repentant so I gave him a job as a security officer at a shopping center in Delray. What a success story Don turned out to be, running the whole shopping center. He was fixing it, leasing it and working it so I gave him more and more properties to manage. Now after 5 years, he is my senior Propel manager in charge of 40 men who report to him. Also, he is now in charge of 52 commercial properties. He strives to give back. He was at church with me on Sunday and I saw him helping many, many people. It’s just an amazing story.” Not surprisingly, Jim could fill a book with grateful testimonials from those he has helped.

Jim’s goal is to see his programs, PROPEL and Changing Lives, be perpetuated throughout the country and maybe the world. He summed up his legacy: “I hope that one day we have these PROPEL programs running all over the country so that when I’m in heaven I can look down and see the many children being helped who might have otherwise gone to jail. It is much easier to get them when they are 10 years old than when they are 15 years old and addicted to drugs.”

Both Jim and his wife Marta, created a foundation and have committed to “The Giving Pledge”, that is a commitment of philanthropy both in Florida and around the world. They have donated to the relief and recovery of several major hurricanes worldwide including Katrina and Dorian. They invest in cultural, educational and recreational endeavors, supporting over 65 philanthropic organizations. Jim believes in having a strong work ethic, a deep faith and unwavering social responsibility. Considering the massive number of people he has helped, and all the children he has positively influenced, it’s a given that Jim Batmasian has paved his path to heaven. But in the meantime, we are lucky to have him right here doing so much good on earth.

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