Mario De Divitiis doesn’t have to look far to see the good volunteering can do.
He is surrounded by Ronald McDonald House Hamilton, where De Divitiis, who lives in St. Catharines, is CEO for south-central Ontario.
It provides support and a place to stay for families with seriously ill children in hospital, about half of them from Niagara.
“I always tell volunteers, you do more than the work you do,” De Divitiis said in an interview.
“If you cut vegetables or serve food, you are doing more than that. You are truly connecting with this other human being in front of you who is in pain and in need of a sense of connection.
This month, his own efforts in the community were recognized when he received an award from the Brock University Alumni Association for community engagement.
In addition to his work at Ronald McDonald House, De Divitiis chairs the board of directors of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Center in St. Catharines and was for six years a director of the board of directors of Brock. In 2020, he was appointed director emeritus.
Previously, he was CEO of the Niagara Workforce Planning Board and founding CEO of Leadership Niagara.
“I’m a big Brock guy,” said De Divitiis, who earned degrees in public policy and administration, and political science.
He said his family had learned from the volunteerism example of his parents, Anna and Paul.
For years, the family has hosted the free Spirit of Christmas community dinner every December 25 at Gord’s Place Restaurant in downtown St. Catharines.
After it closed about three years ago, they were able to hold it for one more year at a local school, but the event has been put on hold for the past two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“For me (volunteering and community work is) a great way for students to find purpose in our community and lead to employment,” said De Divitiis.
“You start volunteering somewhere and before you know it you really have a sense of connection with the community and you really want to stay here. “
Ronald McDonald House relies on approximately 350 volunteers from Kitchener to Hamilton and Niagara, in addition to the work done by the staff.
The 5,575 square meter facility offers 40 rooms for up to six visitors per family, in addition to two family rooms located nearby at McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Together, they register around 150,000 visits per year.
The impact of COVID-19 has made the work of volunteers more vital, he said, although it has been more difficult for them to devote time to it.
Fundraising for most charities took a hit during the pandemic, “this means you are relying on volunteers to help you with much of the operation because you don’t have the funds to hire one. person at the front desk or hire several people in the kitchen. “
“So volunteers are an important part of an organization’s operational cycle. “
In addition to his parents, he said former Niagara Region Corporate Services Commissioner Brian Hutchings motivated him to become more involved in the community about 10 years ago.
“Leadership Niagara, where I worked, was a program that was really trying to train leaders, to motivate them to get more involved in their communities,” said De Divitiis.
“So I really felt like I had to practice what I was preaching. “