What would drive a fourth-grade teacher to become the CEO of a real estate holding company that currently has over $20 million in assets?
Most people would say money, but for Women of FIRE winner Sharon Castelli, it was and still is the desire to help transform the lives of people in need.
Castelli started as a teacher in Providence, got her masters in counseling to pursue a career in social services and then joined a noprofit in Connecticut.
The Chrysalis Center, where Castelli has served as CEO since 1999, offers a wide array of community support services to help individuals and families living in poverty cope with mental illness, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, release from incarceration and homelessness.
Under Castelli’s leadership, the Chrysalis Center’s Real Estate Corp. was formed in 2003.
“Regardless of who we served, everyone had the need for safe and affordable housing,” Castelli told The Commercial Record. “It’s a game changer when people have safe housing.”
In its nearly 15 years in existence, the company has blossomed, completing five developments within the real estate corporation and another five projects by partnering with developers.
Six more projects are currently pending and the organization aims to create or set aside units for the developmentally disabled population, a group of people proving costly for Connecticut and that Castelli said is being ignored.
When she started in the development business, Castelli said there was a steep learning curve, but growing up in a family business provided the experience that she could quickly develop into skills in the real estate arena.
Being a nonprofit, said Castelli, has also come with a learning curve of its own. That is why, she said, it is crucial to really listen to the officials of the community you are building in, while also making sure they understand what needs to happen to ensure a project gets built.
“You have to talk their talk and walk their walk,” she said, adding that getting through the zoning process to obtain the necessary permits is no easy task. “Every mayor and selectman has a vision for their community. It’s important to listen and incorporate that into the project so there is a partnership.”
Castelli has grown to love the development process, and what makes the hard work worth it is the impact she gets to make everyday on people’s lives.
“I am honored to do this kind of work,” she said. “It feeds your fire to do more of these projects because you know they are successful and needed.”