|By C.R. Roberts, The News Tribune,
Tacoma, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 28, 2008--Tacoma first met Mike Hollander in 2002 when his Bellingham firm invested $12 million in a derelict building -- the Waddell -- and a chunk of land upon which he would build a hotel. The hotel rose as the Courtyard by Marriott, across Commerce Street from the new Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.
As he broke ground for the new enterprise, Hollander said he found Tacoma to be "in the midst of a renaissance which I think is as exciting as any in Washington or the West Coast."
Six years later the renaissance continues and Hollander counts his hotel as a financial success.
But sometimes, a developer counts success by means other than money. Along with owning a string of hotels in Puyallup, Portland and Bellingham, Hollander has invested his passion into something more elementary.
He's a member of the Christian Reformed Church, and several years ago he formed a 501(c)3 charity -- Kidstown International -- to help orphans in Romania. Today, Hollander offers support to 10 Kidstown orphanages in Romania, two in India and one in Nepal.
We spoke last week at the downtown Marriott about the charity, and how a business can mix profit with good works.
I've interviewed you before about hotels, but I've only recently heard about Kidstown. How did you get started?
I liked adventure. I went with (a friend) to Romania in 1990, just after the revolution. In the city of Oradea I met a bishop from the Reformed Church. He said children were dying with no medicine, old ladies were dying with no medicine. He asked, "Can you get some medicine?" I talked with the denomination (headquarters) in Grand Rapids, Mich., to try to organize a process of getting medicine. They said we can give you some help, but you have to organize it yourself.
So you did.
From 1991 to 1993 I took teams of people, took used hospital and doctor's-office equipment, rehabilitated. Through 1994 I took six trips. I got in there under the auspices of the Reformed Church. In those days, we could get in without much difficulty. I started seeing the state-run orphanages.
What did you see?
I had never dreamt that children could be warehoused and abandoned in that way. It was emotionally heart-rending. Those children, 6 months to 15 months old, would lie in their beds and look at me. They wouldn't cry, anything. They had learned crying didn't get them attention. Cribs were crowded together. The smell of urine. It was remarkably quiet.
The caregivers were kind, sort of, but they would have a detachment. They wouldn't allow themselves to become attached.
I didn't know what to do with it. In 1994, the head of our denomination was with me.
You visited a private orphanage on one of your visits.
We went to a little town. The pastor's wife had a little orphanage, 25 babies. The whole community was rallying around. With tears in her eyes, she said, "I need help." That was probably the start of coming back here and organizing what became Kidstown.
In 1996 you formed the 501(c)3 charity.
We joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Our total budget is $250,000 to $300,000 a year. (Note: The ECFA reports that Kidstown spends 71.4 percent of its income for program expenses, 20.5 percent for administration and 8 percent for fundraising.) We also have sponsorships. All sponsorships, 100 percent of that money goes to the orphanages.
I lit the match -- other people came into the organization. God made it work.
I never thought it would grow into the size it is today.
As I grew older, I began to realize that the process of doing ministry is a whole lot more rewarding than being a hotelier. We just don't stop being a Christian on Monday morning. That's who I am.
In these Q&A sessions, we don't usually talk about religion -- but it seems to be a large part of what you do. Has this work had an effect on your business?
I don't know that it has. Do people stay in my hotels because I have a charitable organization? I don't think so. I don't think that 99 percent of the people know.
I think it's important not to use (this) as some sort of badge of honor, that we are better than another business because we help orphans. We have orphans -- so you should stay with us. I don't like that.
I think we need to make sure we offer our customers the best hotel experience they could have.
And your employees?
We have no litmus test in hiring. I think the staff only hears of our involvement after the fact. And at Christmas, we collect cans of food for the local food bank. We support Relay for Life, and Alzheimer's research. As a company, I do not want my staff to think they are obligated to participate in any way.
I love the hotel business. It is neat to take a hotel -- rehabilitate an old building. It's a delightful challenge. I enjoy the journey.
Finally, another business question. Will Hollander be doing any expansion in the South Sound?
We are looking in Tacoma. Our eyes are always open. It's been a great city to do business in.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
Title: Owner, Hollander Investments
Properties: Courtyard by Marriott in Tacoma; Park Plaza and Holiday Inn Express in Puyallup; Best Western Heritage Inn in Bellingham; Crowne Plaza in Portland; additionally an apartment complex in Bellingham and the landmark Bellingham Towers
Family: Divorced; five biological and four adopted children
For more information: www.kidstown.org
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