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Building for the future

David Belman, president of Belman Homes Inc., holds 2-1/2-year-old Natalie Sprang, of Belgium, at a customer appreciation party Aug. 8 at a model home in Lisbon. The Waukesha-based home builder, through Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin Inc., is sponsoring Sprang’s request to go to Walt Disney World. (Photo submitted by David Belman)

David Belman, president of Belman Homes Inc., holds 2-1/2-year-old Natalie Sprang, of Belgium, at a customer appreciation party Aug. 8 at a model home in Lisbon. The Waukesha-based home builder, through Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin Inc., is sponsoring Sprang’s request to go to Walt Disney World. (Photo submitted by David Belman)

For companies that survived the 2008 recession, reactions often split between two paths: those that fear they’re still not in the clear and keep operations lean and mean, and those that are so relieved to bounce back that they’re sharing the wealth.

Individuals benefitting from the latter group’s optimism include marketing professionals, formerly laid-off laborers and several young children across Wisconsin.

That includes 2-1/2-year-old Natalie Sprang, an otherwise typical tiara-loving toddler from Belgium, Wis., who suffers from retinoblastoma, a rare cancer in her eye.

Sprang and her family — which includes parents, Heidi and Jason, and two older siblings, Sean, 11, and Analeigh, 6 – are the beneficiaries of Waukesha home builder Belman Homes Inc.’s post-recession generosity. The company has raised enough money to send the entire family to Walt Disney World for a week in October, granting Sprang’s request through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin Inc.

“The way the market was and what we went through, you start to appreciate things a lot more,” said David Belman, president of Belman Homes. “… We want to take care of our customers and take care of someone else that has a need.”

In the past three years, Belman said, the company has tripled its sales revenue. That is partially a result of moves made during the recession, he said, such as using the down time to provide extra training for Belman’s sales team and installing new software to better track the building process for clients.

Ever the optimist, Belman noted that “when you’re not busy building houses all the time, it’s a great time to improve things.”

For Belman, whose father, Don Belman, founded what would become Belman Homes in 1981, the desire to give back was inherited from his dad, who was a longtime contributor to the city of Waukesha fireworks display and other community outreach efforts.

Sprang’s plight in particular touched him, Belman said, because he has a 7-year-old daughter.

“People really identify with a person,” he said. “It means so much more.”

Kevin O’Toole, executive vice president of Hunzinger Construction Co., Brookfield, is similarly moved by the plight of Make-A-Wish kids. Through efforts partially spearheaded by O’Toole, the company has granted more than 100 wishes through the charity organization.

It recently had the honor of granting the Wisconsin chapter’s 5,000th wish by building an Eppstein Uhen Architects Inc.-designed playhouse for an 11-year-old girl suffering from cystic fibrosis.

“I think that we individually, and companies for that matter, have an obligation to do something,” O’Toole said.

A longtime power player in Wisconsin construction, Hunzinger is in a position to be a “good corporate citizen” as he put it.

And though the work is no doubt selflessly motivated, it also helps counteract misconceptions about the industry.

“I do believe that construction people often are misunderstood,” O’Toole said. “There’s this aura of being tough guys; they go and they bang hammers.”

But as someone who has seen hordes of those tough guys show up on a Saturday morning to help build a princess playhouse for a little girl, he said, that one-dimensional perception “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“We’re a family business and we run our company in many ways like a family,” O’Toole said. “There are a lot of values that come with that, one of which is you should be a good partner and should help people that need your help.”

For the Sprang family, the help couldn’t come at a better time, said Heidi Sprang.

“We would have loved to be able to do something like this for her,” she said, “but financially we never could have done it. In her young life she’s had so many medical things, she probably thinks that what life’s about.”

The Belman team is excited to counteract that notion. In addition to covering all travel and accommodation expenses, granting Natalie’s wish also will include extra money for special treats such as a visit to Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where Natalie and her sister will be transformed into princesses for a day. The builder’s sales team, fired up from doubling its revenue in the past year, chipped in for an extra surprise gift, to be revealed at a special party Sept. 5.

“We want to make it really special for her,” Belman said.

Caley Clinton is associate editor of The Daily Reporter. As the mother of one girl and another on the way, she will no doubt end up at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique someday.

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