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Meet Cessidia De Biasio, Founder of The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship

When she was just 19 years old, Cessidia De Biasio established The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship in honour of her Nonna Addolorata, a widow who immigrated to Canada with her five children. Raising over $52,000 to date, the foundation aids first-or second-generation University student leaders while paying homage to our ancestors who immigrated to Canada. Understanding the impact of storytelling, Cessidia launched the #OurJourneytoCanada grassroots social media campaign which showcases Canadian immigration stories. One of Leadership Windsor-Essex’s “40 Leaders Under 40,” Cessidia volunteers with several not-for-profit organizations, and will soon be pursuing her MBA.

My first job ever was at an ice-cream store. I still remember all 51 flavors and never got tired of eating ice-cream! 

My Nonna Addolorata inspired me to establish The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship because… as a widow with five children, one being my mother, Nonna risked everything to migrate with her family from Italy to Canada in order to provide them with a better life. Travelling by ocean liner and landing at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nonna, at 47 years of age, came to Canada with little money, a trunk full of belongings, no knowledge of English, and a grade three education. To say her voyage to Canada was met with many obstacles is an understatement. 

Nonna’s courage, as well as that of my paternal grandparents who also immigrated to Canada, inspired me to build upon their voyages and assist those with similar stories. No matter your family’s country of origin, we all share something in common; we are all here today thanks to our ancestors who paved the way for us. These factors were catalysts in establishing my charity, The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship. I created this foundation to pay it forward and support first-and-second generation University student leaders. I also established the charity to honour the perseverance, sacrifice, and vulnerability of youth, immigrants, women, and our ancestors who came to Canada to provide their families with better lives. 

My boldest move to date was… performing The Vagina Monologues, as part of a University course. Prior to this performance, I was terrified of public speaking. This frightening, yet liberating experience, enabled me to become a more confident presenter, feminist, advocate, and empathetic person. Putting myself in the shoes of others aided me in cultivating emotional intelligence and helped me become more vulnerable.

This performance bolstered my confidence when, at the age of 19, I undertook a $40,000 fundraising goal for The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship. As a young philanthropist, I encountered much rejection while trying to get a seat at the table and be taken seriously. Collaborating effectively, becoming comfortable with presentations, demonstrating adaptability and perseverance, and learning lessons from every obstacle and triumph contributed to successfully raising over $52,000 to date. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I enjoy boxing and listening to rap music. My first concert was to see Lil Wayne. 

My advice for young professionals is… to look at failures as learning opportunities, be vulnerable, and do not take no for an answer! As youth, we are sometimes underestimated because we are viewed as being “too young” or “lacking in experience.” As the next generation of change-makers, our responsibility is to collaborate with others and advocate for our passions. We deserve to have our voices be heard!  

My best advice from a mentor was… to remember that whenever I am feeling uncertain or overwhelmed I need to keep in mind the following mantras: “this too shall pass” and “am I being the best version of me?” 

My biggest setback was… my inner critic. For the longest time I rarely gave myself credit for my accomplishments. I thought that any success I achieved was a result of luck or external forces outside of my control. My inner critic produced a lot of self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and caused me to fall into negative thinking traps. 

I overcame it by… meditating and practicing mindfulness, being more kind to myself, and being vulnerable by talking about my inner critic. Sometimes I still doubt my abilities; however, placing more emphasis on what I do, rather than what I get from what I do has helped increase my happiness and gratitude. 

My passion for women, youth, and immigrant advocacy began when…I enrolled in Social Work and founded my charity. As a Social Work graduate and former Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (WECAS) employee, I learned about utilizing empowerment theories, finding my voice, and advocating for vulnerable populations. At WECAS, I supervised court-ordered family visits, navigated hostile relations, oversaw suicidal teens, and collaborated with clients and coworkers of diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. This experience alongside my family’s immigration journey, my community’s multiculturalism, and my belief in the power of an education inspired me to start my foundation and advocate for equity-seeking populations.

Recognizing the impact that storytelling had on my well-being, motivated me to create a safe platform for others to share their stories and take power over their narratives. I established the #OurJourneytoCanada social media campaign to help showcase Canada’s multiculturalism by highlighting immigration stories. Bringing people’s voices and perspectives to the forefront helps humanize their experiences and creates unity among diversity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… take my dog, Luna, for more walks. Luna is our family’s six-year-old black Labrador who loves squirrels, peanut butter, car rides, and baths. She can lift anyone’s spirits and has gotten me through some tough times. 

I hope to achieve… a career where I can help break down educational and employment barriers for women, immigrants, and youth and increase mental well-being initiatives so vulnerable populations can be assisted holistically. I believe that enhancing a person’s quality of life through their mind, body, and soul, makes our communities stronger.

I stay inspired by…reading the #OurJourneytoCanada stories. This campaign is intended to create a dialogue among those in our community regarding diversity, overcoming obstacles, and how we have more similarities than differences. Learning about a person’s journey, culture, and traditions teaches people valuable lessons and enables empathy and engagement. Our stories help define us. So why not share it in hopes that we can inspire others along their journey in life? 

The future excites me because… of the new adventure I am about to embark on! I will be pursuing my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Queen’s University, Smith School of Business, starting in January 2021. I am excited to go back to school and utilize my Social Work and Business acumen to make a social impact. Every person, obstacle, and achievement I have encountered has been a gift. My journey has profoundly shaped the woman I am today and will continue to influence the woman I want to become in the future.