By Sheila Murray Associate Fellow 2017-18
Faye Giannelis ’15 and Diana Cotaras ’17-’18 were about to meet their newly assigned mentor, Colin Asselstine the Director of Claims Transformation with RSA Canada. But Faye was breastfeeding her infant son. So despite their certainty that showing up with a newborn was not good corporate protocol, baby would have to come too. They needn’t have worried. Passion and dreams are a powerful mix that can overcome many challenges. Colin Asselstine quickly saw that Diana and Faye had plenty of both.
All three are part of a mentorship program offered by the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) in partnership with RSA Canada. SSE has helped all sorts of people to shape their project or business ideas, and to launch successful new enterprises. Strong mentorship from someone outside of the School gives those new entrepreneurs much appreciated added confidence.
Colin has been volunteering his time since grade school. He is an ideal mentor. RSA has been around for 300 years, but its core principle, putting people first, hasn’t changed. Its corporate culture values social responsibility; RSA not only gives Colin the freedom to carry on giving, but fosters his interests with extended time off, or by donating to the charities that he supports. Colin’s own mentors have given him invaluable advice throughout his working life, taking the time to guide him along the career path that led to RSA. When Colin heard that SSE was looking for mentors, his immediate response was, “Put me on the list.” About a month later he was introduced to Diana and Faye.
“He was so calming,” says Faye. “He told us, ‘This is your dream. This what you want to do. You know this stuff.’”
Neither Diana nor Faye had ever run a business, but both have many years of experience working in daycare. They create environments in which children thrive, and they know that kids flourish in the company of loving and attentive seniors. Diana’s business inspiration came from cheerful family visits to her grandmother’s nursing home. Far too many of the other elderly residents ate their meals alone. They were isolated and lonely.
Diana says that when she learned about an intergenerational daycare in Seattle her heart leapt into her throat, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” But she needed a partner: Faye didn’t hesitate. Their intergenerational daycare would be called Polly Hill after Diana’s grandmother, who had been a pioneer in early childhood education: coining the phrase, “the terrible twos.” Polly Hill would be innovative—creating day-long opportunities for interactions between old and young—an Ontario first. “We want seniors to come sit outside when kids are playing,” Diana says. Or come inside to read stories, or co-play with puzzles and crafts. Elders benefit from tactile experiences and the joy that children bring, while the kids gain empathy and appreciation for older people.
Colin showed the women how to communicate their vision. “I’ve grown so much as an individual because of him,” says Faye. She and Diana had never done well at presentations but Colin used role-play to coach them through. “He was so calming,” says Faye. “He told us, ‘This is your dream. This what you want to do. You know this stuff.’” They had several more meetings after that first time, and Colin was always available by phone or email. In turn, Diana and Faye taught him lots about life with young children. Colin is a proud new dad.
There is one more thing that is very special about this particular RSA/SSE mentorship. Diana isn’t the only one who shares her grandparent’s passion. Long before Colin began his career, his own grandfather had been president of RSA Canada. Future cohorts of Polly Hill Intergenerational Daycare will be the beneficiaries of both Diana’s and Colin’s legacies.
Photo Credit: Robin Woltman, Creative Commons