by Peter Katsionis CIS, B.Ed, M.Ed
Photos: Peter Katsionis
Francesco Aquilini slowly made his way through a throng of admiring young men, all eager to greet, chat with, and of course fist bump the well-known Italo-Canadian businessman and philanthropist. Wearing a smile that was ear to ear, Francesco eagerly began his story of growing up in this community, the child of Italian immigrants and now a well-known figure in the city.
It was a return to a different time for Francesco. He told of his origins and his childhood, many years of which were spent in Hastings Park, today’s site for the East End Boys Club meeting. He spoke to how important roots and a strong foundation are to growing up, and how, many years later he still maintains and treasures the relationships he built as a young Italian kid sneaking into Canucks games and vowing the one time he got caught, that he would one day own the team!
When asked by one of the boys on how to make money, Francesco offered this, “you can’t hurry to make fast money, that doesn’t really work well. You have to know how to play the game and the money will come when you believe in what you are doing.” Francesco continued this theme by talking about preparation as he said, “when you are prepared, and opportunity crosses and those two things meet that’s when things happen.” He finished this with the story of how the Canucks were acquired. Although many of the boys in the EEBC were not even born when Francesco took ownership of the team, the story resonated with them as they are fans, and any bit of background and history sparked their interest.
The boys are aware of and appreciate the time with people like Francesco but being teenagers, they crave the “real” knowledge that is available and even more, how to learn from the mistakes made, even by Francesco. But the message he delivered, met with applause, was, “if you make a decision, you have to live with it. Learn from it.” Jim Crescenzo, the founder of the EEBC truly appreciated this statement as personal accountability is one of the missions of the organization.
The EEBC teaches, through instruction and speakers, quite a bit on financial planning and management so questions on investments and business were sure to come. And they did. Francesco was asked where someone should invest and of course a discussion entailed concerning the various types of internet revenue, something particularly appealing to younger people. But Francesco’s advice, condensed here, is to invest in tangibles and the people who work in them. Construction, of course, but investing in services, necessities and the things that make people’s lives better were a few of the avenues he suggested to the boys as they mature and enter the workforce. From the eagerness of the questioners, it appears that Francesco has inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs.
The final question, from this reporter, centered on growing up Italian in this community. It was especially relevant as our boys are all descended from immigrants and many of their experiences mirror Francesco’s. But in his words…
“Together we got to meet other people of the same class as me and it is what made me the man I am today. It is an honor to share a culture. Immigrants have something to prove. Imagine the courage you need. I respect, I really respect that we have a lot of social programs here but there they only had a dream to build a better family and that means a lot and you have to honor and respect it. It’s all about respect.” Needless to say, he got a standing ovation from a group of boys eager to better themselves, to achieve their potential and maybe even achieve the success of Francesco Aquilini, an Italian kid from the east side.