No, the title’s not a typo. When we sat down to talk about Half-Way Motors with retired Dealer Principal John Trevisanutto we were expecting to talk about the usual things we discuss with local business, like the number of local people they employ, the property taxes they pay and the donations they make to support local charities. Instead we heard, in the best possible sense of the word, a manifesto.
When we told John we were looking to show shoppers why they should #ChooseTBayFirst, he shook his head and said that “it’s business’ job to choose Thunder Bay first first,” because when you operate a business within a community, you’re there to serve the community. In John’s mind, that service ethic means something beyond impeccable customer service; it means leveraging your business’ success in support of a stronger, healthier, happier city. “If your business is successful, it’s because it’s been supported by the people around you,” he told us. “You owe it to them, and to yourself, to give back what you can.”
Over the past 30 years John and the business have been actively supporting organizations ranging from big guys like the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, United Way and Canadian Diabetes Association to smaller organizations like Shelter House, the Boys and Girls Club and Roots to Harvest. Their charity of choice today, though, is Our Kids Count. And you should see John glow when he talks about them.
John got involved with OKC after a conversation with a local school principal. “He told me that there are kids right here in our community going to school without breakfast, without lunch, because they come from homes without stoves to cook on or fridges to keep food fresh,” he explained. When he connected with the Our Kids Count team soon after that, he decided that he could help them to help families to address that issue. Nine years later, John has donated a building to OKC, helped them fundraise approximately a million dollars and recruited a bunch of other local businesses to help renovate their new premises, where the organization now offers a variety of parenting programs, community meetings and kitchen access for anyone wishing to learn, cook, preserve and store food.
Despite his massive initial contribution to the charity, John says that business expertise and business connections are probably more valuable than donations. “Business owners bring financial knowledge to the table that can really help charities to get ahead,” he told us. “Not to mention that in a town of this size, everything’s connected. I might not know how to do something, but I probably know someone who does.” That’s how Clow Darling ended up doing all the plumbing work, Wanson agreed to donate all the lumber, Prezio Electric provided the electrical contracting and Anttilla Tile re-tiled the new family-friendly washrooms in OKC’s new space – John asked them to. “We also had support from Teleco, Beebe Mechanical and MGM Electric, and the woodworking class from St Pat’s High School built all the walls and hung the drywall. They worked for the whole school year on the project.” John feels that in a lot of cases, businesses just need to be told they’re needed, and they’ll come through.
We spoke with Gladys Berringer, OKC’s Executive Director, about the way Half-Way’s involvement has helped them move ahead. Gladys explained that, from being an organization with short-term funding and short-term plans, they’ve grown into a hub of ongoing activity featuring a kitchen designed to help families and individuals prepare nutritious, affordable and healthy meals. She told us that many of OKC’s programs build on the idea that food has power; the power to inspire us, the power to nurture our bodies and build health and the power to bring people in communities and families together. This philosophy extends to the organization’s operations as well – participants become actively involved in all aspects of their programs including planning, implementing and evaluating their success.
As John eases himself out of the business and into his retirement, he says he’s incredibly proud that the next generation of leaders in the Half-Way family of companies has maintained the community service ethic he’s advocated for all these years. The only thing that would make him happier is for more local businesses to recognize the power they have to make our community stronger. “Like I said – expertise and connections are key,” he says. “No matter how small your business is, you’ve got those to offer. You can make a difference. And when you choose Thunder Bay first, Thunder Bay tends to choose you right back.”
Visit the Half-Way Motors website and you’ll see a list of charities they support, along with information about Half-Way Power Sports’ upcoming Snowman Poker Run, taking place