Charitable Choices: Marco DeVuono of Villa Charities Inc.

Villa Charities Inc. is a local Toronto non-profit created in 1971. Since then, Villa Charities Inc. has promoted Italian culture, offered educational programs and supported culturally sensitive long-term care and independent living apartments for seniors. We spoke with Marco DeVuono, President and CEO, to find out more about what they do.

Villa Charities

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Villa Charities Inc. (VCI) is a registered charity and non-profit organization that enriches lives through experiences and services that honour Italian culture and heritage. For more than 50 years across the GTA, Villa Charities Inc. has provided cultural and educational programs and supported culturally sensitive long-term care and independent living apartments for seniors.

What problem does it aim to solve?

The idea for Villa Charities Inc. stemmed from the concept of ‘community’ for Italians and their families, and the need to provide high-quality, culturally sensitive residential care for elderly Italians.

Originated in 1971, VCI has been instrumental in connecting lives through intergenerational experiences and services that honour and celebrate all things Italian. The organization began as the Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation (ICBC) with a mission to raise funds for and develop, administer and coordinate projects in the health, social, cultural and educational fields, which would establish the concept of ‘community’ for Italian-Canadians and their families.

We fulfil our mandate through a broad range of activities, services and facilities, both directly and in conjunction with our affiliates and independent organizations. Affiliates include Columbus Centre and Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery; Villa Colombo Homes for the Aged Inc. in Toronto; Villa Colombo Seniors Centre (Vaughan) Inc. Di Poce Centre; and Italian Canadian Benevolent Seniors Apartments Corporation/Casa Abruzzo Benevolent Corporation with apartments for independent seniors (Caboto Terrace, Casa Del Zotto and Casa Abruzzo). Each of these organizations is an integral part of the Villa Charities family with separate legal status and its own governance Board.

When did you start/join it?

I joined Villa Charities as Chief Financial Officer in March 2017. Four years later, I was honoured to be appointed President and CEO, in September 2021.

What made you want to get involved?

I have been involved with Villa Charities all my life. I live in the neighbourhood and visited the Columbus Centre often when I was growing up. My children also participated in the programs and services offered by Villa Charities.

Now, in my leadership position, I am committed to sustaining our organization’s great legacy and advancing our strategic priorities, with a focus on the pillars of community, fundraising and stewardship. I am actively engaging members of our community in this work by ensuring that I am highly visible, approachable and available to discuss issues important to them, whether large or small.

What was the situation like when you started?

When I began my role as CEO in 2021, it was during the second year of the pandemic. Villa Charities was continuing to adapt our programs and services to the ever-changing conditions and striving to deliver them safely and effectively. Due to COVID-19, like other organizations, we had to develop a broad range of online programming and content, so that we could continue to connect with the Villa Charities community in new ways.

We were also strongly committed to the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable population, the seniors in our apartment buildings, and provided many support services and resources during that time.

That year we also proudly celebrated Villa Charities’ 50th anniversary, on April 15, 2021. To commemorate this momentous occasion, we hosted a series of virtual initiatives and programming throughout the year honouring our organization’s rich history, recognizing the Italian-Canadian community’s significant contributions to Canada, and exploring how VCI will continue to serve the community long into the future. While the commemorations were largely virtual due to the pandemic, we took great delight in celebrating our achievements over the past 50 years and engaging our GTA community.

How has it changed since?

Since we emerged from COVID-19, the organization has been revitalized, with the Villa Charities community returning to the campus to participate once again in all the programs and services we have to offer.

Villa Charities continues to provide cultural and educational programs for all ages while supporting culturally sensitive long-term care and independent living apartments for seniors across the GTA. In so doing, Villa Charities recognizes the significance of and honours the many Italian immigrants who helped build the city of Toronto and surrounding metropolitan areas.
Our campus will continue to serve as a destination not only for the multigenerational Italian Canadian community, but also for the vibrant, broader multicultural community seeking to explore and experience Italian culture and heritage.

What more needs to be done?

As a registered charity and non-profit organization, programs and services at Villa Charities are made possible only through the generosity of our donors, sponsors, patrons and community partners.

It is important that we continue to grow and adapt to the needs of the ever-changing and diverse community around us. One of Villa Charities’ strategic priorities is to be a leading provider of Italian and Italian-Canadian culture and heritage programs in the Greater Toronto Area. If we can provide quality programs, we will remain relevant to not only first-generation Italians but also the second, third and fourth generation Italian Canadians and the community at large.

At the same time, we will continue to expand our partnerships and affiliations with Italian and non-Italian organizations that are aligned with Villa Charities’ mission, vision and values.

I look forward to working alongside our Board, Executive team and staff, and to incorporating the insights of our patrons, partners, community members and other stakeholders as we continue the work of positioning Villa Charities for our next 50 years.

How can our readers help?

There are many ways the community can get involved. They can participate in our broad range of programs and services; support us through our fundraising events and initiatives including our annual Giro Cycling Fundraiser, and the national Villa Charities Scholarship Program; or become a monthly Villa Charities Circle donor.

For anyone whose family members or loved ones immigrated from Italy, the Villa Charities Italian Canadian Immigrant Tribute project is the perfect way to celebrate their immigrant experience while supporting Villa Charities.

Do you have any events coming up?

We have ongoing cultural and fundraising events, classes and workshops and other programs for all ages and interests.

Villa Charities is also currently in the planning stage for the upcoming renovation of Villa Colombo Toronto. The 266 Class B beds in the Fusco wing of the long-term care home will be upgraded to meet the legislated Class A standards required by the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

An important initiative for the organization is the Villa Charities Italian Canadian Immigrant Tribute project, a nationally recognized destination to honour Italian Canadian immigrants and their families.

Located at Toronto’s iconic Columbus Centre on the Villa Charities campus, the installation will feature up to 5,000 plaques inscribed with the names of Italian immigrants who journeyed to Canada to begin a new life. The tribute installation will be surrounded by a bronze casted art piece, as well as a seating area.

Purchasing a plaque also means donors can share their family’s immigration journey online by submitting a brief family history and up to four images, to appear on the Immigrant Map at Villa Charities Immigrant Tribute. This collection of immigrant stories is an engaging digital library to explore and learn about the shared experiences of the Italian Canadian community across the country.

Name plaques are available for purchase through Villa Charities Foundation. Proceeds will support programs and services offered by Villa Charities such as senior care, cultural programming, scholarships and youth services, and capital needs. For more information, visit the website, email or call 647-951-9874.

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PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Non-profit partner organizations that we highly regard for their promotion of Italian culture and heritage are the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario of Canada (ICCO Canada) and the Italian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF).


About Sabrina Greggain-Lord 9 Articles
My name is Sabrina Greggain-Lord, I live in Montreal and I am a Community Outreach worker for the Guardian. I am passionate about writing and bringing recognition to those doing wonderful work within their communities.