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05/22/2019 08:30 AM

Nikki Travaglino: Ensuring Homes for Heroes

East Haven native Nikki Travaglino is helping to find homes for the heroes who have served the country and the community through her work as a realtor.Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier

Nicole Travaglino has long been active in fundraising with the community. With her daughter joining the military, however, she’s found a new way to combine her business with helping those who serve others.

Nikki began to focus her skills on Homes for Heroes after her daughter, Rosie Riccio, chose to join the Navy in lieu of college. When Riccio was deployed last year on the destroyer USS O’Kane, Nikki figured Rosie would come back with enough money to buy a car.

“I was…thinking you’re fighting for your country, you’re deployed out in the ocean somewhere for nine months, there must be some kind of bonus,” Nikki says. “We’re not a military family. This was all new to all of us.”

When Nikki learned how little the hazard pay was for Rosie and her crewmates, she wanted to do something.

“She’s a young, single girl. She doesn’t have a family,” Nikki says, “but there’s 350 sailors on [Rosie’s] boat that have families and children and it really, really hit me hard that there’s so many people that give their life for our country and the sacrifices that they have.”

A realtor by trade, Nikki was at a convention in Boston when she saw an enormous American flag displayed for the Homes for Heroes (HFH) organization and realized she’d found the way she could make a difference.

“I see this. I’m thinking, ‘I like America, I like homes, I like heroes, maybe this is something that I can get involved with,’” Nikki says.

HFH is a Minnesota-based network of real estate and mortgage professionals with a goal of finding ways for those in select professions to save money on purchasing homes. The organization classifies as a “hero” anyone working in the military (active, reserve, and veterans) or law enforcement, firefighting and medical response, and education fields.

Nikki has been selling homes in the area for 20 years, and has gotten to know many people who fall into HFH’s “hero” categories.

“I’ve had a lot of teachers that I’ve worked with. Most of the teachers that I know dig into their own pockets to buy school supplies for the kids or coats for the children, so what better way for us to help these local heroes?” she asks.

By joining the company, Nikki is committed to returning a portion of her commission to the heroes who find a home with her. Since joining the group in January, Nikki already has three qualifying clients.

“They’ll have more money for their families to get set up and started with their homes,” she says.

HFH also has people in the mortgaging and refinancing sectors of the housing market that offer similar services.

HFH “is well known down south and in the Midwest, but not so much here in the northeast,” Nikki says.

In addition to working directly with families shopping for homes, part of Nikki’s work with the organization is finding people who qualify for the service.

“The way that I raise awareness—and don’t laugh—is through food,” she says.

She’ll bring snack baskets to office buildings with brochures and information about the program, hoping that the workers might know someone buying or selling a house who might qualify. The organization also sponsors fundraising events to reach out to the community and raise awareness.

“The only catch really is that you have to work with us in order to get the benefit because we’re the approved realtors in this area,” Nikki says. “It’s been a challenge raising awareness to people in this area.”

Though she’s now a Guilford resident, Nikki says her experience with charitable causes started growing up in East Haven with parents who were very involved with fundraising in the community.

“I guess I just always grew up fundraising and getting involved in the community,” she says. “As my kids were growing up, I remembered how I grew up and how much fun it was. You got to meet a lot of people and help out your fellow citizens.”

In addition to HFH, Nikki works with a Guilford-based group of women called Team Pink Friends Forever (PFF), which started by raising money for breast cancer awareness and research but has since branched out into anything the group can find.

“They just wrap their arms around all sorts of community events,” she says.

Most recently, the group raised more than $3,000 for cystic fibrosis with a silent auction. Nikki says the group will spring into action at the hint of a good idea. For Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on May 12, Nikki suggested bringing in breakfast to the local officers.

“That’s all I had to say,” she says. “The next day, five cars pull into the police department, we all jump out…we made breakfast.”