MONTREAL, MARCH 23, 2012- Mario Bentrovato has been chosen as this year’s Volunteer of Distinction by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). He will be honoured at Volunteer Appreciation Evening on Wednesday, April 18 at Plaza Antique (6086 Sherbrooke Street East).
Mr. Bentrovato, who works as a civil servant for the Quebec government, began his volunteerism with the EMSB 12 years ago, when his oldest daughter Melissa started kindergarten at Edward Murphy Elementary School in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. “It all started that September at the general assembly, when I was asked to serve on the school’s governing board,” he recalled. “At that time, I had no idea what a governing board or a PPO (Parent Participation Organization) meant or what is consisted of. Originally, I thought I was going to help out with bake sales and carnivals,” he said. “The first year was a learning curve for me. I observed and listened to what was happening and from there, I got more and more involved with the school. I never looked back.”
The son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Bentrovato’s motivation to be a committed school parent volunteer had its roots with his parents, who were focused mainly on raising and supporting a family with four children. “My mother was raising four kids at home and my father’s priority was to be the family breadwinner so that he could put food on the table,” he said. “He had no idea what my life at John F. Kennedy High School was like. When I asked my dad to attend parents night, he replied ‘Why? Did you do something wrong? What do I have to go for?’ When I became a parent, I decided to do the opposite and become involved with my kids’ school life.”
That sense of involvement has grown tremendously over the past 12 years. Presently, he is a parent volunteer at three EMSB schools: Edward Murphy (where his youngest daughter Milena will be graduating from this year), John Paul I in St. Leonard (where middle daughter Jessica is a student), and Laurier Macdonald High School in St. Leonard (where Melissa currently attends). He has served on the governing boards of all three schools, on the PPO of Edward Murphy, and has chaired or participated in a wide range of school activities, such as BBQs, Earth Day celebrations, winter carnivals, dances, lectures, fundraisers, after school programs and Breakfast with Santa (in which he even donned the costume as a last-minute substitute Santa Claus last year). And school volunteerism seems to run in the Bentrovato family; his wife Pina – who has been by his side helping out with school activities since the beginning – currently serves as the chairperson of the Edward Murphy PPO.
As well, Mr. Bentrovato’s hard work and commitment, not to mention the network of contacts he has established over the years, has kept him in constant demand to volunteer his time and expertise to help establish and organize more events for the EMSB’s other schools, and he keeps on getting phone calls from parents from those schools asking for information or to lend a hand. He has brought athletes from the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact to schools as guest speakers; donated a wide variety of door prizes for school fundraisers; provided a great deal of help with the EMSB scholarship golf tournament and the “All the Way with the Impact” school visits; has found sponsors for the “Inspirations” newspaper; and initiated the board-wide Heart Month activities and the Montreal Impact/EMSB Scholarship Program.
With all that time aside from his regular day job dedicated to the EMSB community as a whole, Mr. Bentrovato doesn’t see it as a chore, but more as a hobby. “When you love something that you do, you find the time to do it,” he said. “People have hobbies. In my family, our hobby is volunteering. It makes us happy and gives us a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. My daughters help me out with my volunteering activities, and my wife does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done, such as phone calls and paperwork.”
As a testament to how his tireless volunteering has created such an impact at the school where he had his start, the PPO at Edward Murphy asked Mr. Bentrovato to remain on board next year as its community representative. “Edward Murphy is my home,” he said. “In fact, Pina and I spend more time at the school than at our actual home.”
And when the time comes that all three of his daughters have graduated from the EMSB, it will not mean the end of Mr. Bentrovato’s commitment to volunteering, only this time, it will extend to the community at large. Recently, he and his daughters got involved with the Montreal Children’s Hospital, in particular with a dinner-dance and t-shirt sale fundraiser, which amassed a total of $15,000 towards the purchase of three pieces of equipment for its cardiology ward.
“Volunteering is a big part of my life and my family’s life,” he said. “People always ask me ‘Why do you do this? Why do you give so much of your time?’ And I tell them that I always like to help out kids. At the end of the day, when a child goes home from school with a smile on their face and they’re happy because they met their favorite athlete or had a great time at an event I helped to plan, that’s my compensation, my reward.”
“If I helped to change the life of one child, then I know I succeeded.”