In his teens, Scottsdale Realtor Jeff Fields lost three friends to suicide.
Those losses have served as a call-to-action of sorts for Fields, who has dedicated years of his life to raising awareness of suicide and suicide prevention via local nonprofit Teen Lifeline.
Eight years ago, Fields began his journey with Teen Lifeline as an advocate, eventually moving his way up to board president.
Now, he is one of the National Association of Realtors’ five 2020 Good Neighbor Award winners.
“It’s so incredibly exciting,” Fields said of the award. “More than anything, it means an opportunity for more awareness for Teen Lifeline.”
As part of the award, Fields will receive a $10,000 grant for his charity and will be featured in the November-December issue of Realtor Magazine.
Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors will also honor Fields, in lieu of the traditional ceremony held annual at the Realtors Conference and Expo.
“In an extraordinary year, these Realtors inspire us to care about others and contribute to making our communities a better place,” said realtor.com CMO Mickey Neuberger in a prepared statement.
Nominees were not only judged on the amount of time dedicated to a cause, but also their financial and material contributions.
As a volunteer and past board president of Teen Lifeline, Fields has served more than 28,000 youth through a peer-to-peer teen crisis hotline, while providing community education on suicide prevention.
When he was a high school drama teacher, he began speaking at high schools around the state about suicide prevention.
“When I was a high school theater teacher, I wished I had known that there was a resource like Teen Lifeline. So, when the opportunity came up and I learned what that organization was all about, I knew it was a perfect fit of something I wanted to volunteer for, to really help raise awareness and connect teachers with this organization to help,” Fields said.
Fields later became a Realtor and made an impressive monetary impact on the nonprofit.
One of his real estate clients donated $50,000 last year to Teen Lifeline and Fields helped the nonprofit raise nearly $500,000 at its gala last year.
This year’s gala has been canceled due to the pandemic; it will now be held Oct. 1, 2021 at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia.
“A scary fact out there that people are putting out is that because of the pandemic, they see 40 percent of nonprofit agencies closing,” Fields said. “That won’t be the case for Teen Lifeline.”
“We’re very strong and have a strong infrastructure, but most certainly our line of donations and fundraising has been drastically affected. So, that’s definitely a shift and a pivot that we are having to make in order to raise new funds,” he continued.
Funds raised at the Connections of Hope Gala will help Teen Lifeline peer-to-peer hotline volunteers respond to thousands of calls and 1,300 text messages from teens in crisis this year.
Teen Lifeline also provides prevention education and outreach to nearly 200 schools and more than 50 community and youth-focused organizations.
“The piece I like to focus on is that suicide really is the most preventable death that exists if you catch it in time. By using as much awareness as possible and connecting people to the organization, we’re effectively saving lives and creating a better tomorrow,” Fields said.
Amid the pandemic, the nonprofit, which was deemed an essential business, received a “significant increase” in calls and texts.
“It can be for any number of reasons, from depression, anxiety, and loneliness, to alcohol and drug abuse,” Fields said.
“There’s also a horrible domestic violence side that the pandemic has brought about,” Fields added, “because if you think about it for a lot of those teens, school was the sanctuary.
“That was the safe spot. And not only did school get taken away, but they were often quarantining and locked into this horrible situation that they couldn’t really get out of it.”
Due to the pandemic, the nonprofit is “definitely outpacing” last year’s 28,000 calls.
“That number will most certainly increase for 2020,” Fields said.
Fields said he’s most proud of the growth the nonprofit has achieved over the past eight years he’s been on the board, during which the nonprofit has grown from three employees to 15 and tripling their operating budget to more than $1 million.
“To be able to be instrumental in helping the organization grow and be able to reach new levels of awareness and help has been a pretty awesome accomplishment,” he said.
Looking ahead, Fields plans to continue to pursue his goal of helping teens know that they’re not alone.
“We are on the back of over 200,000 Arizona school IDs with the Teen Lifeline number and the message that you’re not alone — and that has had a significant impact in being able to connect people,” Fields said.
This is Fields’ second time for being awarded the Good Neighbor Award.
The Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors gave him the award last year’s Installation & Awards Ceremony.
Over the past 21 years, the Good Neighbor Awards program has awarded nearly $1.4 million in grants to more than 200 Realtor-led nonprofits in 40 states, 15 countries and in Puerto Rico.
“Our Good Neighbor Award winners leave a remarkable impact on their communities every year, but everything these Realtors have done in 2020 is even more impressive and more commendable,” said NAR President Vince Malta. “I am proud to honor Jeff Fields for dedicating his time and passion to giving hope to teens who had none.”