- Jean-François Venne
Dr. Stelios Nikolakakis- From Adversity, a Passion for Giving
For people who were raised in a culture of giving, turning personal misfortune into an opportunity to give even more comes naturally.
Just ask Dr. Stelios Nikolakakis, an optometrist from Etobicoke, Ontario, who credits his parents for instilling a sense of social responsibility in him. “Every holiday season when I was a kid, my parents would have me donate toys to Sick Kids, a non-pro t organization that gives Christmas presents to sick children who are stuck in the hospital. But by the time I was a teen, I was doing it on my own because the value of giving had been so ingrained in me.”
Stelios has given back to the community by supporting various charitable causes ever since. For the past two years, he and his Etobicoke clinic staff have taken part in the “Walk for Breast Cancer” organized by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, and ve years ago, he joined the “Walk for ALS” after hiring a new associate whose father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
When Tragedy Strikes
Three years ago, tragedy struck much closer to home when Stelios’s wife, Fabiana Bacchini, who had been pregnant with twins, developed complications, leading to the death of one baby and the premature birth of the other at only 26 weeks. Stelios would spend the next ve months at the hospital watching over his son as he clung to life. Although baby Gabriel survived, the couple soon realized that their troubles were far from over when their son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. There would be many trips to the hospital over the next three years of Gabriel’s life, including one over the Holidays. An ironic twist given that the man who had given so many gifts to Sick Kids was now receiving them for his own sick child.
But instead of drowning in sorrow, Stelios and Fabiana drew strength from the other families they met in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. In fact, Fabiana was so moved by all the support they received that she co-founded Great Big Tiny Hearts (www.greatbigtinyhearts. com) with one of the mothers who befriended her. Every December, the non-pro t gives 50 baskets of essentials, one for each NICU bed at Mount Sinai Hospital. Suppliers at Stelios’s optometry clinic provide nancial support, the clinic itself buys toys for the sick kids’ siblings, and both Stelios and his wife give their time volunteering at the hospital.
More recently, the optometrist supported another important project through his new Foundation, HandFullHearts: building an accessible playground for his son Gabriel and the other special needs children who attend Silver Creek Pre-School in Etobicoke. Through sale proceeds and donations from clients and suppliers, Stelios’s clinic raised over $16,000 to help build the $120,000 playground, whose construction was recently completed.
This giving spirit is a big part of the corporate culture fostered at Stelios’s clinic. During the hiring process, he always asks candidates to identify a cause that’s important to them and to come back the next day to explain how they would go about raising $1,000 to support this cause. “I want to hire people who share my passion for social responsibility,” he explained. “We ask our employees and associates to attend fundraisers and to make other commitments, and they’re typically glad to do it because people and solidarity come rst at our clinic.”