From lunch programs to career-launching: a study in Centraide success
Nick Skarmountzos gets a little sentimental when he talks about the kids who grow up at the Park Extension Youth Organization (PEYO).
“I started my youth here, playing sports, and I’m still here 21 years later,” says Skarmountzos, who’s now the organization’s financial director. “I’ve never left home.”
PEYO is one of the 370 community organizations that receive financial support from Centraide of Greater Montreal. This year, Concordia is seeking to raise $190,000 for Centraide by November 15.
At PEYO, amazing things happen every day: from daily lunches that benefit more than a thousand children to street-work and after-school programs, organized sports, field trips and a drop-in centre, PEYO makes a noticeable impact on Montrealers’ lives. And they don’t forget it.
“The kids move through the ranks as children, then as teens and young adults — even employees. When one young man left to go work at a multinational cosmetics firm, he tried to get a sponsorship for us from the company,” Skarmountzos says.
People of all stripes coalesce into a single unit at PEYO: an especially impressive feat considering its members come from some 60 different cultural groups. According to Skarmountzos, Centraide’s support is key.
“We try to open the eyes of individuals and big businesses, and show them what their help does for the community. When our organization does well, it reflects well on Centraide.”
More than one of those pairs of eyes belonged to students from Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education. PEYO hired its first Co-op student in the summer of 2004 at the suggestion of Perry Calce.
Calce is a long-time university employee — he is currently the coordinator of academic programs and curriculum development at the School of Community and Public Affairs — who moonlights as PEYO’s president. According to him, “Nick integrates his Co-op interns as part of the team.”
Accountancy student Anthony Di Ciero can vouch for that: at PEYO, his responsibilities ranged from looking after bank reconciliations and payroll to working the barbecue at an elementary-school field day. It was his first of three Co-op work terms, and he says clocking in each day was “an absolute joy.”
“I could not have broken the ice into the accounting world any better than I did with PEYO,” Di Ciero says. “My goal is to one day run my own business, and I cannot stress how much this experience meant to me in regards to that. But I’m also proud to say that when I left, I took much more than just an accounting experience with me.”
Skarmountzos also keeps the big picture in mind. When it comes to PEYO and Centraide, “I think all good things will come,” he says. “Let’s keep up the good work.”