The Working Centre's founders receive honorary doctorates

Friday, October 25, 2019

It all began as a more profound way of thinking about community. Now, with over three decades and numerous subsequent projects to its name, The Working Centre is a local legacy beaming brightly from the heart of downtown Kitchener.

Founded by Waterloo alumni Stephanie Mancini (BA ’82) and Joseph Mancini (BA ’81, MA ’82) in the spring of 1982, The Working Centre serves as an ongoing response to unemployment and poverty within the community.

Joseph and Stephanie Mancini in front of The Working Centre
The non-profit organization uniquely offers access to tools, resources and practical job search to support the unemployed — changing the way many people think about community aid. Among the growing network of not-for-profits is also St. John’s Kitchen, which was established in 1985 to serve hot meals to those in need. And 34 years later, the Kitchen includes a primary care clinic, Downtown Outreach workers and nurses, a dental clinic and a Hospitality House. Nearly 3,000 job searchers were helped through the resource centre last year.

At its roots, the Centre exists not only as a project of development, but also as a movement for social change.

“Community builds when people are able to use their skills and abilities in a way where they are not controlled but can offer them into something greater,” the two explain. “That is why The Working Centre has 500 volunteers supporting its projects. It’s a deeper idea of community about using tools with the freedom to serve others and connect with each other.”

In addition to being an outstanding model for community co-operation, The Working Centre also shines because of its ability to simply create a space for gathering, where people respect and support one another.

“When you look at The Working Centre today, you can see that there is a free meal being served, there is a bike shop, cafes, a two-acre market garden, buildings that have been renovated along with fourteen buildings and houses,” says Joseph Mancini.

“You can see the concept of a village living within The Working Centre and its related projects. It supports people who are left out.”

Recognized in 2014 with the Benemerenti Medal, a Papal honour, and in 2016 with the Order of Canada, Stephanie and Joseph Mancini will now receive the highest honour conferred by the University of Waterloo. They are set to receive honorary doctorates in recognition of their outstanding service to society at the morning convocation ceremony on Saturday, October 26, 2019.

“We’ve never really left the University of Waterloo,” the pair says. “The Working Centre and Waterloo have hundreds of connections and the University has been a big part of the development of The Working Centre.”

Being quite young when they began their project, both Stephanie and Joseph Mancini have contributed much to the community and continue to develop projects to help marginalized communities in downtown Kitchener.

“When you start a project, it’s so small, no one can even notice that it’s there,” Joseph Mancini notes. “The starting of something is not about the individual, but rather about the small community of people who gather around an idea and work together to turn it into something a little bit bigger and deeper.”

Read the full story about convocation honorees, including Faculty of Arts members, Professor Derek Besner, Professor Erik Woody, and former Stratford School leader, Ginny Dybenko.