A Year-End Message from
President and CEO
Marco DeVuono
As 2021 draws to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the events of the past year and share some highlights with our Villa Charities community.

Throughout the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic we continued to adapt and deliver our programs and services in a safe and effective manner. Vaccinations are paving the way for the return to ‘normal’ life and we were finally able to resume on-site operations late in the year.

And as we work together in response to this newest phase of the pandemic, it is important to express our sincere gratitude to all frontline health care workers, including the staff at our long-term care affiliates Villa Colombo Toronto and Villa Colombo Vaughan, for their ongoing efforts and unwavering commitment to care for and protect the most vulnerable citizens in our community, our seniors.
50th Anniversary

Villa Charities marked a historic milestone when the organization turned 50 on April 15th, 2021.

Although we couldn’t host on-site events to celebrate with our community, we commemorated this momentous occasion with virtual initiatives and programming throughout the year that honoured the past, celebrated the present, and looked towards future growth and opportunities.

Some highlights included:

  • Cover and feature story in Spring 2021 edition of Panoram Magazine.
  • Commemorative lightings of the CN Tower and TORONTO Sign in the colours of the Italian flag on April 15th.
  • 50th Anniversary Celebratory Greetings Videos shared by community leaders, luminaries and renowned Italian personalities, acknowledging the organization’s milestone, including a video message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
  • A series of commemorative interstitials produced by TLN Media Group, featuring interviews with members of the Villa Charities family, including founders, board members and stakeholders.
  • A 50th anniversary tribute video produced by ICFF.
  • Fun, interactive content such as a customized Facebook frame, 50th anniversary Instagram filters, Top 50 Spotify playlists, monthly contests and more.

As part of our year-long 50th anniversary celebrations we also launched our new website. The brand-new site features a clean and contemporary design, easy-to-use navigation and improved content organization, for everyone looking to explore the broad range of programs, services and facilities for Villa Charities and our affiliate organizations.

A special thank you also goes out to our 50th Anniversary Committee Chair and VCI Board Director Dr. Gina Valle and all the committee members for their passion, hard work and contributions to the success of our celebrations!
COVID-19 Response

Throughout the public health crisis, our top priorities were to provide a safe environment for staff, patrons, residents and tenants to ensure we did our part in the battle against the COVID-19 virus.

Villa Charities continued to keep everyone in the VCI family engaged, connected and supported. For most of the year, many of our classes and workshops were presented online, including dance, music, art and athletics.

Making a difference for those who needed it most – the residents in our three seniors’ apartment buildings – was also a focus for organization.

The [Re]Connected Seniors Project concluded their successful digital literacy workshops that taught seniors how to stay connected to their friends and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project was created by Villa Charities and funded in part by the Government of Canada's COVID-19 Emergency Community Support Fund, with funds administered by United Way of Greater Toronto.
Fundraising to support COVID-19 Response Initiatives for our seniors was ongoing throughout the year, to support the essential COVID-19 safety measures we provided to the residents at Casa Abruzzo, Caboto Terrace and Casa Del Zotto.

In partnership with Villa Colombo Toronto and Humber River Hospital, we held vaccination clinics for the residents in Casa Abruzzo, Casa Del Zotto and Caboto Terrace, for first, second and third doses. Through these efforts more than 1,500 vaccine shots were administered. Toronto Public Health also hosted a community vaccination clinic at the Columbus Centre in early September.

Mandatory staff and patron vaccination policies were implemented in September, to ensure our workplaces and facilities are as safe as possible. These policies are part of Villa Charities’ comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan, which includes masking, social distancing, and screening.
Cultural Activities and Events

Throughout most of 2021, many of our cultural programs and events continued to be impacted by COVID-19, and for a second year we offered many of our presentations on online platforms as arts audiences participated from home. 
Villa Charities patrons were invited to enjoy Festa di Carnevale  Commedia dell’Arte, a special video performance by Dora Award-winning performer Adam Paolozza from Bad New Days. 
Our popular Cultural Tuesdays and Learn Italian by Doing programs also continued to entertain and educate. Highlights included lecture series on Federico Fellini and Ennio Morricone.
Villa Charities proudly celebrated Italian Heritage Month in June with a month-long festival dedicated to Italian culture and heritage. While unable to welcome the community to the campus, we marked this cherished annual occasion with a series of engaging digital events and programming. The roster once again showcased the artistry and talents of Italian-Canadian performers and our diverse community with a lineup that included panel discussions, music concerts, heritage experiences, live culinary workshops, dance performances and more.
When we moved to the Step 3 Reopening phase in July, we were excited to resume on-site cultural events, including the “Garden Music Nights” outdoor concerts on the Villa Charities campus. The seniors in our community enjoyed live music performances by popular Italian-Canadian musicians Claudio Santaluce and Bruno Nesci throughout the summer.

Created and developed by Sholom Wargon, the “Immigrant Story” project was an interactive digital experience featuring an inaugural collection of 43 inspirational stories of individuals who immigrated to Canada from Italy and other countries. In September, the “Immigrant Story” exhibition opened at the Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery as the evolution of the online project.
In the fall, patrons enjoyed our new culinary series with the “Villa Cucina” cooking and tasting experiences and the “Taste of Italy” themed dinners.
Columbus Early Learning Centres continued to offer emergency child care for frontline and essential workers during the pandemic. Due to high demand, a new location for before and after-school programs was opened at St. Raphael Catholic School.
Villa Charities Foundation

While some of our fundraising events such as Giro were postponed due to COVID-19, Villa Charities Foundation continued with their efforts to raise much needed funds in support of programs and services at Villa Charities.

In February, the 2021 Villa Charities Scholarship Program was launched for post-secondary undergraduate and graduate students. The second year of this national program was funded by Villa Charities Foundation and made available to students of any heritage, who believe in and will help further Villa Charities’ mission “to enrich lives through experiences and services that honour Italian culture and heritage.”

The 2021 scholarship program awards a total of 20 scholarships valued at $60,000, with eight scholarships offered through Villa Charities Foundation and twelve scholarships offered through George Brown College in Toronto. The eight Villa Charities program winners for the 2021/2022 school year were announced in September and received their awards via a virtual ceremony hosted in October. 
The Foundation also facilitated the “Tutti Insieme” project, generously funded by LiUNA Local 183 as an opportunity to bring colour, creativity and life to the outdoor play space at the Columbus Early Learning Centre located at Casa Del Zotto. The children participated by helping to choose which animals would be included in the new mural that was completed in August.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our inaugural Ital-Canadian Golf Open on August 30th in support of CIBPA Toronto, ICCO Canada and Villa Charities Foundation. We had a great event at Eagles Nest Golf Club and enjoyed a day of celebration while reuniting in an atmosphere of fun and friendship. More than $150,000 was raised to support programs provided by the three organizations.
On November 18th in partnership with UHN Foundation, Pioneers in Excellence II was held at Montecassino Hotel & Event Centre in honour of Carlo and Angela Baldassarra and Dr. Antonio Finelli, Head of the Division of Urology in the Sprott Department of Surgery at University Health Network (UHN). Over $3.5M was raised in support of long-term care and community services.
Villa Charities continued to support and work with other organizations and events. In 2021, this included sponsorships and other types of support.

In collaboration with Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Villa Charities presented Festa della Liberazione, an online commemoration of Italy’s national Liberation Day on April 25th. At the end of April, we also honoured the more than 1,600 Italian fallen workers who lost their lives to workplace tragedies in Canada. Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, we were unable to host our annual ceremony on-site at the Italian Fallen Workers Memorial on the Villa Charities campus grounds. However, the community was asked to stand with us in spirit to honour their extraordinary efforts and vast contributions to the social and economic progress of Canada.
We invited the Villa Charities community to celebrate Easter with dinner and a show - a deliciously curated six-course feast for two from Eataly Toronto, and a special virtual performance by Italian-American comedian Tara Cannistraci.
Villa Charities also celebrated Italian culture and literary expression by sponsoring the Young Italian Canadian Writers panel discussion at the fourth annual "Librissimi Toronto Italian Book Festival" presented by Comites Toronto in May. Our ongoing collaboration with ICCO Canada continued with the co-presentation of “110 e Lode,” a special video celebrating our respective 60th and 50th anniversaries this year, which premiered on Facebook Live on July 21st. Villa Charities once again supported ICCO Canada for their IT@CA conferences, “ITALY: A PLACE TO GO,” and Pentola d’Oro Awards, and sponsored the ICFF 2021 Film Festival and Mississauga Italfest virtual events. On our campus, we partnered with TLN Media Group to support their “Italy @ Home Film Festival” and the very popular “Salsa for Seniors” event, in collaboration with the Canadian Salsa Festivals Project and TD Salsa in Toronto.
Independent Seniors’ Apartments

June marked two milestones for our independent seniors’ apartments when Casa Abruzzo celebrated its 25th anniversary on June 12th, 2021, and Casa Del Zotto turned 30 on June 23rd, 2021. To commemorate these occasions, Villa Charities hosted outdoor performances by local Italian musicians throughout June for the residents to enjoy from the safety of their windows or balconies and complimentary anniversary gifts.

Residents also enjoyed many activities courtesy of Villa Charities including viewing parties for the Euro Cup, Tomato Sauce Making, Porchetta and Speducci, Chestnuts and Wine, and Italian Christmas Baking Contest community events.
Looking Ahead

Although there are capacity restrictions in place, weddings and social events at the Columbus Centre have also resumed. In 2022, we look forward to hosting even more
in-person programs and events including the return of our Giro cycling fundraiser on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

As the new VCI President and CEO, and under the leadership of our new VCI Board Chair Joseph Arcuri, I look forward to advancing Villa Charities’ strategic priorities and furthering our mission of enriching people’s lives through experiences and services that honour Italian culture and heritage.

Thanks to everyone who celebrated our 50th anniversary all year long with us, and a very heartfelt THANK YOU to our staff, management, Board, residents, patrons, and tenants, who continue to participate and support this great organization. Here’s to the next 50 years!

The Villa Charities Executive team and I wish you and your families all the best this holiday season and a safe, healthy and happy New Year!

Marco DeVuono
President and CEO
Villa Charities Inc.