Ivette Alvarado, a Newark-based attorney and member of the Sills Cummis & Gross PC real estate department, is this year’s Commercial Real Estate Women Inc. New Jersey board president, as the organization continues its recovery from the pandemic. — Courtesy: Sills Cummis & Gross PC
By Joshua Burd
It’s been a common theme for Ivette Alvarado, even more so in recent months. Just ask her fellow directors and members at Commercial Real Estate Women’s New Jersey chapter.
“I say it at almost every meeting and board meeting,” she said. “We’re rebuilding in 2021 — as an organization, in our personal lives, how we do business, how we work.”
Alvarado, a longtime CREW New Jersey member, has stayed especially focused on that message since taking over late last year as the organization’s president. Now several months into her one-year term, the Newark-based attorney is helping to guide it through the second year of the pandemic and what it hopes will be a continued economic recovery. That’s no small task for a group that typically provides a wealth of networking and business development opportunities, but Alvarado and her fellow board members have continued to do exactly that.
Central to that effort has been a busy slate of programs — the number of which doubled in 2020 from a year earlier, despite being virtual — ranging from in-depth webinars to more casual gatherings on Zoom. CREW New Jersey now plans to maintain that pace in 2021.
“One of the biggest challenges and one of the concepts that we had to address in rebuilding the organization was keeping our membership engaged and connected,” said Alvarado, a member of the Sills Cummis & Gross PC real estate department. “So we really amped up our programming, as much as we could, still in a virtual world, but providing real content.”
Alvarado was an associate with a prior firm when, at the suggestion of a female partner, she attended her first CREW New Jersey event in 2006. She recalls it being “a different experience from any other organization that I had gone to,” noting that “people were coming up to me, introducing themselves and making me feel welcome” as soon as she entered the room.
As she came to learn, it’s a point of pride for the chapter and its board members.
“You walk in and you’re never standing alone,” Alvarado said. That has changed for the moment during the pandemic, but it has been and will continue to be a focus for CREW New Jersey.
“That’s really how we operate as an organization,” she added. “We all reach out — especially when we see young women starting off their careers, it’s important to help them start building their network and to provide support. It’s very important for us to reach back and pull others forward with us.”
Alvarado saw additional benefits when she joined the chapter’s programming subcommittee around 2008, bringing her closer to other influential members.
“Like any organization, you get out what you put into it, so there I really got to know some of the more senior members and got a lot of mentoring from them,” she said. “There were other attorneys helping me navigate my career and (giving me) advice … on how to approach business development and career development.”
She continued to play a role in the chapter’s events as she rose through the ranks, including two years as programming director starting 2018, spearheading seminars and other networking opportunities for its members. That focus became all the more important last spring, when COVID-19 upended the economy and business groups that rely on face-to-face contact. And despite the initial “shock to the system” that coincided with the statewide shutdown, the group pivoted to a calendar that included educational programs on Zoom and social interactions such as a virtual happy hour.
Both Alvarado and Elisa Buckley of Walsh Environmental Solutions, CREW New Jersey’s immediate past president, highlighted the efforts to that end of Jackie Giordano of Dynamic Engineering Consultants PC, speaking during the group’s year-end celebration in mid-December. Buckley praised Giordano, the board’s programming director, “for pulling together the amazing programs and jumping on it very quickly” at the start of the crisis, allowing the organization to stay connected and to continue to be a resource to its members.
CREW New Jersey also continued to host monthly in-person gatherings — its “Coffee and Conversations” event, typically outdoors — providing an opportunity for members to connect with safety measures and social distancing in place.
“It just goes back to pivoting how we were doing our programming, but still providing it and really ramping up the amount of programming that we were doing,” Alvarado said. “That has really helped with our member numbers as well. Luckily, it has stayed pretty steady and we’ve actually been getting new members joining, so I think that’s a reflection of the dedication that the board has to rebuild this year.”
By late last year, with Alvarado set to take over as chapter president, the group focused on providing additional content and even more networking opportunities. Its spring events, while still virtual for the time being, will touch on key topics such as storm water management and brownfield projects and include partnerships with entities such as the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast and the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority.
CREW will also ramp up offerings such as virtual wine and chocolate tastings, which create additional value for members while allowing them to be engaged in a less formal setting.
“These are great opportunities to just get to know each other,” Alvarado said during the Dec. 15 virtual meeting. “And I always think (that) really one of the best ways to get business from somebody is the personal touch. Here CREW New Jersey is giving you the opportunity to do that … so you’re not cold calling somebody that maybe you want to collaborate with or do business with. You have a shared experience with CREW.”
Expanding the chapter will likely go hand in hand with a growing industry. Alvarado, a transactional attorney, said business “has been going very strong” for the last six months or so, following an obvious period of shock and uncertainty at the start of the pandemic.