Banner photo by Tomasz Adamski

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.

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.”

Distinguished alumni and professors among honorary award recipients

Honorary Degrees

Anne Innis Dagg

Anne Innis Dagg (PhD '67)

Innis Dagg received her PhD from the University of Waterloo in 1967, after completing an honours BA in Biology and an MA in Genetics at the University of Toronto. Her remarkable record includes seminal contributions to the fields of animal biology, behaviour, and sociobiology, as well as tireless advocacy and analyses of gender bias in academia. She was the first person to study animals in the wild in Africa, and her body of work has laid the foundation for notable progress in her discipline and the advancement of a generation of women scholars.


Donald Lemmen

Donald Lemmen

After receiving his PhD from the University of Alberta in 1988, Lemmen dedicated more than 30 years to studying and publishing on climate and environmental change. With Natural Resources Canada, he led the development of national assessments of climate change impacts and adaptation that have served as benchmarks for policy and program development in Canada. He has represented Canada as a leader on international climate change science and policy through the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including four years as co-chair of the Adaptation Committee, the global advisory body to the 193 member  countries. 
Honorary Member of the University

Vic DiCiccio

Vic DiCiccio (BASc '76, MASc '79)

DiCiccio graduated from  the University of  Waterloo with a BASc and an MASc in Electrical  Engineering. He was instrumental in founding the Institute for Computer Research (ICR), a multidisciplinary institute supporting collaborations across the University and with other academic and corporate partners in the areas of computing, communications and other aspects of information technology. When digital media research was in its early days, DiCiccio capitalized on opportunities for Waterloo to expand its activities in this field. DiCiccio  also promoted Waterloo researchers’ increased participation in Ontario and Canadian research networks and created several large grant proposals that were awarded to Waterloo researchers and their teams. 


Ginny Dybenko

Ginny Dybenko (MMath '72)

Dybenko has been a technology and education leader since graduating from the University of Waterloo in 1972. Career highlights include her appointment as founding  president and CEO of Bell Advanced Communication and dean of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. At Waterloo, she served as the first executive  director of the Stratford  campus, contributing to its enormous growth and success. Dybenko  has served on many boards, including TV Ontario, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council  and the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. She  was identified as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and in 2012 was honoured with a Waterloo Barnraiser Award.


Mary Soulis

Mary Soulis (MASc '78)

 Soulis’ long history with the University began at the age of seven, when her father was hired as a professor in  the Faculty of  Engineering at the  then-new University of Waterloo.  Soulis  joined Waterloo herself in 1971 as an  earth  sciences student, later completing her  master’s in  Civil  Engineering in 1978. Soulis joined Institutional Analysis  and  Planning  (IAP)  in 1981. Over the course of her  35-year  career in IAP, both the University and the broader postsecondary education sector across Ontario and Canada benefited from  her  keen analytical mind and methodical and creative solutions to challenging problems.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Chris Godsil

Chris Godsil

Godsil earned his PhD in mathematics from the University of Melbourne in 1979. He joined Simon Fraser University as an assistant professor in 1981 and was promoted to professor in 1985. In 1987, he moved to Waterloo and joined the University’s Department of Combinatorics and Optimization. He has served as department chair and several times as associate chair for Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. Godsil is a world-leading authority in the field of algebraic combinatorics, especially algebraic graph theory. His scholarly work has been profoundly influential on the development of the subject, impacting the work of many researchers in mathematics and beyond.


Erik Woody

Erik Woody

Woody earned his PhD from Duke University and spent 36 years as a professor at the University of Waterloo. As a clinical psychologist, his leadership in the accredited Clinical Psychology graduate program was crucial to the continuing success of that program. He has served terms as associate chair (graduate) for the Department of Psychology and twice as the director of clinical training. He was elected fellow of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 1993 and received the society’s highest honour, the Henry Guze Award, in 2011. At Waterloo, he was recognized with the Distinguished Teacher Award in 2006 and with two Outstanding Performance Awards.


Derek Besner

Derek Besner

Besner received his PhD from Reading University in the United Kingdom, following which he spent 37 years as a professor at the University of Waterloo. As a cognitive psychologist, his expertise is in the domain of attention and basic processes in reading, a field in which he is an internationally recognized leader. He has been elected fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, The Psychonomic Society, and the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science. He has had continuous grant funding from NSERC throughout his career. At Waterloo, he was recognized for his stellar scholarship with an Arts Research Award in 2017.