It's 6:15 a.m. Pacific time when I dial Jeff Stack's number, inwardly wincing at the early hour. After all, it's three hours later in my Washington office, and I'm still slugging back my morning coffee. (Just ask my staff.) But Stack, managing director of the Sares•Regis Group, a multifamily owner, manager, and developer in Irvine, Calif., has been up for hours. Each morning, he awakens at 4:15 a.m. to give his youngest daughter the first of three shots she must receive each day to keep her alive.
Natalie, 14, has cystinosis, a metabolic disease that doesn't allow her body to get rid of an important amino acid. As a result, it crystallizes in the cells of the body, eventually affecting the kidneys, eyes, and even brain.
It's an extraordinarily rare condition—only 500 people in the United States and 2,000 worldwide have been diagnosed with the condition. But statistics are hardly a comfort when your child is the one who's been afflicted with a disease that has no cure.
Still, Stack and his wife Nancy are doing everything they can to change those numbers for their daughter and others. After years of keeping their daughter's condition private (she was diagnosed as an infant), the couple in 2002 established the Cystinosis Research Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to funding medical research on their daughter's disease. “This is almost like seed money,” Jeff Stack explains. “The federal government can't afford to fund these dollars. It takes private dollars to do this.”
Those dollars have come from friends, family, and business colleagues, who have raised more than $1.3 million for the effort, a figure that has far surpassed the Stacks' expectations. “We just never expected the kind of money and donations we received,” Nancy Stack says. “We never expected the outpouring of love and support.”
It stands as a testament to Stack, a former Marine who's worked in real estate for decades, his wife Nancy, and finally, the power of the business community to make a tremendous difference.
While CEOs and corporations from Martha Stewart to Wal-Mart have been battered in the press for months, the tightly networked multifamily community has been quietly giving money to help the cause of a young teenage girl with a wide smile, sun-streaked hair, and the birthday wish for a cure for her disease.
Read the names of 2004 donors to the foundation, and it sounds like a list of who's who in the multifamily industry: Camden Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, Lincoln Property Co., Rent.com, Time Warner Cable, CB Richard Ellis, and many more. Among the most generous: Michael K. and Lynette Hayde of Western National Group, also based in Irvine, who contributed in the $50,000 category, and Equity Residential Foundation, which donated $25,000.
One hundred percent of that money will go toward research at the University of California—San Diego and other institutions. (Jeff and Nancy Stack personally cover the foundation's operating costs.)
But Jeff Stack says the dollars, while critical for funding research, are only part of the gifts they and their daughter have received since they went public with her condition. “It's not just the money. It's the amazing outpouring of knowledge and ideas from people, who aren't just giving money, but their energy and time,” he says. “You consistently hear about all the bad people in the world. At the same time, the vast majority of people care and want to make a difference.”
To learn more about Natalie and to contribute to the Cystinosis Research Foundation, visit www.natalieswish.org.