Hamilton Herald Masthead Hamilton Herald


Front Page - Friday, December 29, 2017

Simple act warms Ballezzi’s year

Ashley Ballezzi sets up a donation box at a local Berkshire Hathaway office for her Blessing Bags charity event. - Submitted

Ashley Ballezzi has made a lot of good memories in 2017. This was the year she became a Realtor, joined the Edrington Team at Berkshire Hathaway and spearheaded a holiday charity event that could become a Christmas tradition.

But when Ballezzi looks back on the year, the memory that might be the sweetest to recall – the one that brings tears to her eyes as she relates what happened – involved just her and a homeless person on a lonely curb on 11th Street downtown.

Ballezzi was carrying one of the 150 Blessing Bags she and a handful of other members of the Edrington Team were handing out on a chilly December morning. Stuffed with hats, gloves, toiletries, snacks and more, the backpacks had been going fast outside Community Kitchen. Then Ballezzi saw one man sitting alone, away from the excitement.

“He was criss cross applesauce, his head hanging down. He wasn’t aware of what was going on,” Ballezzi, 24, says. “When I asked him if he wanted a Blessings Bag, his face lit up.”

Ballezzi talked with the man for a few minutes and then returned to the crowd to help hand out the rest of the bags. When she went back to the gentleman, he’d already opened the box of Little Debbie’s Christmas Cakes McKee Foods had donated.

“It felt good being able to lift him up, if only for a little while,” Ballezzi adds.

The Blessings Bag charity event took shape in Ballezzi’s mind during a Realtor retreat in September. As she listened to brokers tell their stories about what they were doing in their communities, something tugged at her spirit and she decided to launch a charity event by the end of the year.

“I’ve always had a heart for the homeless and less fortunate. So, I thought giving them a backpack full of things they could use would be a good idea,” Ballezzi explains.

To be able to put together 150 Blessing Bags in just over two months, Ballezzi was going to need help.

So, she arranged for several local companies to donate items and for each of the five Berkshire Hathaway offices to host a donation box detailing the items needed.

“A lot of people wound up donating cash, which was great because it allowed us to buy in bulk,” Ballezzi says. “We raised $1,500 and were able to give away 150 backpacks containing everything under the sun.”

In a video Ballezzi shot and published on Snapchat, she moves through the Edrington Team’s headquarters at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Realty Center on Riverfront Parkway showing desks stacked with towels, blankets, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and more – and several volunteers working to fill the backpacks.

“I’ve actually cried, and I could cry again,” she says in the 48-second clip. “Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of this.”

In another video, Ballezzi and a handful of team members are signing Christmas cards that say, “Have a merry and wondrous holiday season – The Edrington Team.”

Ballezzi wanted to focus first on the homeless people who exist on the outskirts of the city, away from the downtown area. So, she gave each member of the Edrington Team three backpacks to give away as they saw need.

Then, on Wednesday, Dec. 13, a group of volunteers made their way to 11th Street to give away the rest of the bags.

The thought-provoking notion of Realtors helping the homeless is not lost on Ballezzi, who says an act of kindness could put someone on the path that could someday lead to them owning a home.

“We don’t know their stories or what they’ve been through, but there’s a lot of bad in this world, and if we can help one person, it might be enough to help them get their life on track,” she adds.

Life is just getting underway for Ballezzi, a single mother who’s been in the real estate business for a mere five months.

A native of Tampa, Ballezzi moved to the Chattanooga area when she was 17 to attend Southern Adventist University.

A year and a-half later, she set aside school and joined the labor force, working first at Sun Tan City in Fort Oglethorpe and then at Monica’s Bridal.

Real estate entered the picture after Ballezzi married, had a child and then divorced, as she wanted a firm financial foundation that would also give her the flexibility she needed as a single parent.

After using Edrington Team agent Marcus Holt (see July 14, 2017 cover story) as her Realtor when buying her first house, she decided to consider real estate as a career option.

Although Ballezzi interviewed several local companies, her desire was to join the Edrington Team.

“They do advanced training and are involved in a lot of up-and-coming things in the real estate market,” she points out.

“Plus, Marcus made an amazing impression. I thought, ‘If I’m going to be successful in real estate, I have to be a part of this team.’”

Instead of interviewing them, though, the Edrington Team interviewed Ballezzi. After bringing her on, the leaders made Holt her mentor.

Ballezzi’s first five months have been marked by success. She’s both listing and selling and has already sold six homes. Ballezzi has also been learning the lessons every new Realtor learns.

“I’ve learned that you can’t count your paycheck until you’re at the closing table. Anything can happen, and when it does, you have to stay positive and do your best to put things back together,” she says.

“I had a buyer who was going in a little under the asking price for a house that was being sold ‘as is.’ The inspection brought a lot of issues to light, but I was able to negotiate for the sellers to pay almost $13,000 for repairs, accept a lower price and contribute to the closing costs,” she continues.

“I loved being able to help a young man who didn’t have a ton of money saved but needed a house to get to the closing table before time was up.”

Although Ballezzi is humble – she gives more credit to the people who contributed to Blessing Bags than herself – she does say she feels like she was born to be a Realtor.

“I know that sounds crazy but I’ve always been outgoing and involved in the community,” she acknowledges. “And now that I’m in real estate, I see my community involvement becoming bigger than I’ve ever imagined.”

Ballezzi’s professional goals are just as ambitious. As she looks forward to the year to come, she’s planning to sell 35-40 houses in 2018. Instead of seeing this as a watermark she wishes to achieve for herself, Ballezzi says, “This is what I want to contribute to my team.”

Ballezzi is also looking forward to giving away Blessing Bags again next Christmas. Like her real estate career, she sees that only bigger and better as well.

“Things are only going to take off from here.”