If you were to imagine a picture accompanying the word “philanthropist” in the dictionary, Vince Mirabelli might not be the image that would come to mind. Perhaps “young Italian bachelor” would be more appropriate, since that’s actually how Mirabelli began his journey of giving back—as a candidate for the annual bachelor auction for the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation in 2003.
When he was asked to participate in the auction, a charity event that raises funds for breast cancer research and treatment, he was initially reluctant. “I thought, I’m not getting up in front of 400 women,” he says. But after he learned that the mother of a good friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, he knew he had to step up.
That first awkward experience turned Mirabelli, now 36, on to the powerful rewards of helping others and kicked off his 13-year affiliation with the Thunder Bay hospital. Since then, Mirabelli, an International REALTOR® based in Ontario, Canada, has served the hospital as a devoted volunteer, donor, fundraiser, and, for the last seven years, as board member.
Having a Ball
Mirabelli’s admiration for Thunder Bay Regional began in 2002, after his father had a heart attack and made his recovery there. Mirabelli was so moved by the level of care his father received that he wanted to do something to help. But he was in his early 20s and his career hadn’t taken off yet. He couldn’t afford to write a big check, he says, so he founded the Save a Heart Ball in 2005, a gala fundraiser that has been going strong ever since, raising nearly $500,000 over 10 years.
The event brought in an entirely new cadre of friends to the hospital. “It was the first time we’d seen this,” says Glenn Craig, president of the hospital foundation’s board of directors. “He’s been able to reach a younger demographic of volunteers.” Typically, Craig says, the hospital’s donors have been people with established careers who have reached a point of financial security. Mirabelli’s Save a Heart Ball widened the donor base, creating a ripple effect among a whole new population of supporters.
As Mirabelli’s real estate career took root, he realized he wanted to do something for the hospital with his own money. In 2009, right before his 30th birthday, he founded the Paediatric Endowment Fund with a donation of $25,000, a gift that will continue to benefit children’s care while it grows in perpetuity. His goal is for the fund to eventually reach $1 million, and it is well on its way: On both his 30th and 35th birthdays, Vince threw fundraisers and asked his friends, in lieu of gifts, to contribute to the fund. It is now worth about $100,000.
Rocking the Babies
But Mirabelli’s activities haven’t stopped at the check-writing phase. Craig says Mirabelli frequently contributes hands-on volunteer work in the hospital. A particularly poignant area of need: the hospital’s neonatal unit, where an astonishing 20 percent of newborns are born to mothers with opiate addictions. These babies go through neonatal abstinence syndrome, a grueling withdrawal process, and need to be held and rocked as part of their recovery. Mirabelli shows up regularly for these volunteer hours, swaddling and comforting the crying babies. “He’s involved in governance, operations, and also frontline volunteering,” says Craig. “I don’t know how he fits it into his day, but he does.” For Mirabelli, the hands-on work is a way to connect hospital board work with daily, on-the-ground realities. “I think it’s a two-way street,” says Mirabelli. “And it’s good for the hospital staff to see us engaged.”
Mirabelli has built playgrounds, funded literacy programs, and helped build a school in Ecuador, but perhaps his most meaningful volunteer contribution has been with Camp Quality, a week-long overnight camp for children with cancer. With six locations in Canada, Camp Quality allows kids ages 4 to 18 to set aside thoughts of illness and treatment and instead focus on the normal activities of childhood—swimming and kayaking and making friends. Each camper is assigned an adult companion who serves out a full week as the child’s own personal camp counselor.
In 2008 Mirabelli was matched with a 6-year-old boy named Connor McKinnon, who was afflicted with a rare form of cancer. “Vince was the epitome of what we want companions to do,” says former camp director Gladys Berringer, adding that the ultimate goal is to extend the relationship after camp is over. “Vince has stayed involved with Connor for nine years. He’s spent time with the family, attended treatment sessions, even flown to Toronto to be with Connor’s family during surgeries.”
Connor is 15 now and cancer-free, and Mirabelli is still in frequent contact with him and his family. “Connor is like a little brother to me,” says Mirabelli. “The day we found out that he was five years cancer-free, I will always remember that feeling of happiness.” He says, of all his experiences, it’s his most cherished moment.
“Vince is a mentor, a gentle soul, a best friend,” says Connor’s mother, Kelli McKinnon. “I wish I could put into words how forward-thinking and kind Vince Mirabelli really is.”
Mirabelli’s record of giving is especially remarkable for a person his age, according to Craig. “People are busy building their careers,” he says. “They don’t have the time or the inclination. It’s rare for a person of his age to be so community-focused.”
For Mirabelli, it’s a matter of balancing priorities. “Sometimes people say, “If I weren’t so busy . . . But no one’s as busy as I am—I just find the time to do it,” he says. “I’m fueled by the fact that it’s my real love. Real estate provides me with means and a living. But this work provides me with food for the soul.”
Contact Mirabelli at firstname.lastname@example.org and Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation at healthsciencesfoundation.ca.