Michael Schwartz of Toms River is the founder of two major local entities: the annual Seaside Music Festival, and the non-profit Hometown Heroes, which is a grassroots organization that helps local people in need. Although those two accomplishments are enough to make anyone a Mover & Shaker, Michael Schwartz also has a career in law enforcement, politics and real estate.
With all of that going on, it is amazing that Michael Schwartz found the time to speak to us. Luckily, he did:
Ocean Happening: What motivates you every morning?
Michael Schwartz: I try to get a fresh start every day no matter what the previous days event. That can be a daunting task sometimes as we deal with a lot of hardship cases in our office that can really run you through an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes I’ll get approached randomly by someone we’ve helped along the way and they will tell us a story of how Hometown Heroes has touched their lives. That’s what motivates me everyday to keep going, it’s those heart warming stories that make you realize why we do this everyday.
OH: What inspires you the most and why?
MS: People and their stories inspire me. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and meet thousands of people in my career and everyone’s story is unique. I’ve met some incredible people along the way, people that have built businesses, fought for our country, overcome adversity and people who work hard everyday to make our world a better place. The stories I hear everyday from these people is what inspires me to do my part to change the world one day at a time.
OH: Which of your achievements are you most proud of?
MS: I think I’m most proud of Hometown Heroes. Since our inception in 2008 we have helped over 10,000 people in over 2500 families. A lot of those metrics were born out of Hurricane Sandy but we are much more than a Sandy relief charity. We’ve had been helping people in our local communities for 4 years before Sandy ravaged our hometown. Since then we have grown as a national charity servicing people throughout the United States. I couldn’t imagine when this idea was born, that we would have been able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.
OH: What has been the biggest challenge that you have overcome?
MS: I think we’ve all had a number of challenges that were tough throughout our lives but in recent years, I would have to say Hurricane Sandy without a doubt. Our entire organization has changed since the onset of the storm. We had to regroup and ramp up to help those thousand of people that were affected. Hearing those stories everyday and knowing that you can’t solve all their problems is heartbreaking. In the middle of trying to help your neighbors, our very own office building burned down in May of 2014 leaving us with no home and losing years worth of files, memorabilia etc. We didn’t miss a beat and were up and running in a new office within 3 weeks of the fire but we are still trying to overcome that tragedy even a year later.
OH: Which was more difficult to grow: the Seaside Music Festival, or Hometown Heroes?
MS: Both of these companies have had their challenges and neither of them were or are easy. The music festival was a for profit venue and Hometown Heroes is on the opposite spectrum. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to sell products than an actual idea. The music festival, although challenging to orchestrate, seemed to sell itself after a while. Even though our last year of the Seaside Music Festival was 2012 we still receive phone calls from people wanting to participate today. Hometown Heroes is a different animal all together. When people find out what we do and how we are doing it the idea seems to spread like wildfire but we aren’t selling a product so people really have to believe in the message in order to stay engaged. I like the direction Hometown Heroes is going and look forward to seeing great things as we continue to grow.
OH: What is the biggest accomplishment that you would like to achieve over the next 5 years?
MS: This is a great question because I couldn’t even tell you what I want to do when I grow up… I would like to see our charity significantly grow to have a greater impact and reach more families and individuals in need.
OH: How do you think your friends and co-workers would describe you?
MS: I guess you would have to ask them. My friends are my family and I’m the guy that gives you that ride to the airport at 4 in the morning but I’m also no nonsense. Our schedules are very hectic in the office and I think my co-workers would say that I’m all business and straight to the point which can bother some people but at the end of the day it’s all about the results. One of my colleagues gave me one of the nicest compliments the other day and told another colleague that “Mike just get’s it done” I’ll take that any day.
OH: What is your favorite place to go in Ocean County?
MS: Believe it or not, it’s above Ocean County. I got my pilots license back in 2002 and love to fly. Sometimes when the stress gets to me I just take a ride in the plane and get off the ground for a bit. Ocean County is beautiful by air, especially the shoreline. It doesn’t get any better than a few thousand feet off the ground.
OH: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself ten years ago, what advice would you give?
MS: Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to never expect people to think the way “you” think… you’ve got to look at it from everybody’s perspective. I try to understand that everyday but if I could add a caveat to that to my former self, it would be to not take yourself too seriously and try to enjoy the moment while you’re in the moment. We get so busy in our daily routines that sometimes those really awesome moments can pass us by without us realizing how amazing it is at the time.