Ralph and I were recently honored to be interviewed by Michelle Thompson of the Winter Park Neighbors. Download the article, or read what Michelle wrote from our sit-down conversation here. Thank you, Michelle!
Working to Build, Educate, Honor and Serve
BY MICHELLE THOMPSON
When I sat down to talk with Sharon and Ralph Spano, I new little about the couple other than Sharon had recently written a book and Ralph was a land developer and affiliated with Engel & Völkers, a brokerage real estate firm in Winter Park. An hour later I walked away from my conversation inspired by this dedicated, hard working couple who have built several successful business, advocated for legislative reform for people with disabilities, and created a foundation in honor of their son, Michael, who suffered from a rare metabolic disorder that left him physically disabled. Michael passed away in 2008.
The Spano Family originally came to Orlando from Los Angeles in 1982 for Ralph’s start-up development and building company. Their son Michael was 10 months old at the time. Beginning with a project called Sunrise on Red Bug Road, Ralph and his partner went on to build Orange Grove Park, Alafaya Woods, and Twin Rivers. They opened the Oviedo corridor and completed a project in the Disney area. During Michael’s early years, Sharon was very active in disability advocacy and traveled frequently to Washington and Tallahassee to lobby for legislative reform.
“When you have a child with a disability, Orlando is a good place to be,” she says. “I was able to get our son the resources he needed.
Michael was in a wheelchair all his life, and when you have a child with special needs, it’s like having five children– it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It takes both of you.” When Michael passed away in 2008, it was a big shift for Sharon and Ralph in terms of their personal life. “We threw ourselves into our businesses,” Sharon says.
Currently Ralph does land development in Orlando and building and development in Asheville, North Carolina with his companies, Spano and Associates and Asheville Builders. In addition, he is working to change the landscape of real estate with their brokerage and real estate firm, Engel & Völkers. A global company established outside the United States with offices in 38 countries on four continents and 6,000 agents abroad, Engel & Völkers is now the fastest growing real estate franchise in the United States. “Our people are advisors and real estate professionals,” Ralph says. “For most people, the largest asset in their life is their home, and you wouldn’t turn that over to just anyone to sell. You want someone to work for you who has business and financial acumen and who understands your needs.”
Sharon has a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems and owns an independent consulting and coaching practice called Spano and Company. “My focus is the psychology of people in the work environment,” she says. “I have a certification in integral coaching, which is linked very much to my work in human development; looking at where people are in terms of their development and what they need to be doing differently in terms of maximizing their performance in the world. It’s a different kind of coaching because we aren’t just looking at goals, we’re looking at shifting consciousness and the meaning-making systems in the individual,” she says. “It’s all about personal transformation.”
Her new book, The Pursuit of Time and Money: Step Into Radical Abundance and Discover the Secret to a Meaningful Prosperous Life , was birthed out of her interest in human development. Sharon explores this topic through a developmental lens and how early childhood stories around time and money influence people’s potential for success in the now. “It came to me early in my research that these are two vital resources that we make decisions on every single moment of every single day and they impact us in dramatic ways,” Sharon says.
Aside from their businesses, Sharon and Ralph enjoy travel, exercise, gourmet food, and they focus their time and passion on the The Michael Spano Foundation. “My son’s dream was independence and choice, so the foundation is designed to help people with disabilities have more independence and choice in the community,” Sharon says. The foundation puts on an annual golf tournament at Heathrow Country Club, and in the last couple of years has purchased two accessibility vans for families in need. “We get 90-100 players that come because of Michael Spano,” Ralph says. “I have guys calling me asking when the tournament is, when I’m supposed to be the one calling them!”
In addition, the couple has realized their dream to spearhead an arts program for people with disabilities. “It was very important in our son’s life to have the opportunity for creative work,” Sharon says. A disabled child can remain in the school system until age 22, and then they are on their own. Those that aren’t in a program or group home are just home, which can inhibit the parent’s ability to work. With nothing else like what they envisioned in Orlando, the Spano’s set out to create a program to provide a creative outlet for disabled adults and reprieve for their caretakers. The program is part of the Access Ministries run out of Northland Distributed Church and the foundation financially assists the program, paying the salary for the art teacher. “We have 10 people in an 8 week pilot and we already have a waitlist,” Sharon says. “It’s currently 2 days a week, but we plan to expand.” Attendees do art in the morning, have lunch, then do afternoon activities like cooking, martial arts, dance and music.
To learn more about how your experience of money is impacting your potential for health and well-being and greater success in your life, Sharon’s book, The Pursuit of Time and Money: Step Into Radical Abundance and Discover the Secret to a Meaningful Prosperous Life, is available for pre-order now.