BCBusiness The Salvation Army
Local business leader Paolo Aquilini is getting behind a project close to his heart
Credit: The Salvation Army

If ever there were a project that could make a difference, bring light to the community and help others help themselves out of the darkest times, The Salvation Army’s Nine Stories of Hope is it.

That is the message Paolo Aquilini, managing partner, Aquilini Group, and community philanthropist, wishes every business owner in British Columbia to hear.

“Over the years, I have spent time with people The Salvation Army helps,” Aquilini says. “The common thread in their stories is always one of gratitude. Someone once said, ‘People will forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.’ The people are very grateful, not only for what The Salvation Army did for them, but also for how it made them feel. They gave them respect and dignity, and they did it with compassionate hearts above all.”

More than six years ago, Aquilini was invited to speak at the Hope in the City Breakfast held by The Salvation Army and little did he know it would be a turning point in his life. “After I spoke, I was invited to visit the Vancouver Harbour Light Centre,” he says. “I saw the people, met the staff and had a good look at what The Salvation Army is doing.”

Until then, Aquilini had only known about The Salvation Army’s work providing food and shelter to the homeless. However, The Salvation Army is the province’s largest provider of social services outside of the government. It goes quietly about the work of helping individuals tackle homelessness, mental health and addiction, human trafficking, abuse, neglect and other issues.

Nine Stories of Hope is The Salvation Army’s capital campaign aimed at raising $23 million for a new Harbour Light building in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It is The Salvation Army’s largest capital investment in its history in Canada and will bring a state-of-the-art facility to the Downtown Eastside. 

Aquilini was invited to be a patron for the campaign and was pleased to accept the invitation. He tells us in his own words why this project needs our help.

1. Why is it important to support The Salvation Army and Vancouver Harbour Light?

Helping people, for me, is like breathing air. It’s the core of who I am, and it’s what fulfills me and gives me the greatest joy. Communities flourish when we get together and help each other. If we want to live in communities and a society that is flourishing, a foundational aspect of that is helping one another. Love and compassion can grow cold in those who choose not to participate when they can. Unless we as a community step up, that downward cycle continues until we all find ourselves unable to hide anymore from the
problems we choose to deny exist—then necessity drives us. And the help needed is
no longer on what many see as the fringes of society—it is at our doorstep.

2. Why is the Nine Stories of Hope project so important to you personally and as a business owner?

As a business owner in this community, I feel it is important that we do our part to help the community and especially where we work. The four buildings the Army operates out of are old, obsolete and past their life expectancy. The new building will be state of the art, using the latest technologies. This will be a once-in-a-generation project. It will allow the Army to help more people at a lower per person cost. There will be more space and privacy for clients, which means more dignity. There’s also a 22-bed Women’s Addiction Program, which I am excited about because there is a need here that will be addressed. This new building it is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

3. What do you hope to see happen in the community because of this project?

I hope to see change. I hope to see progress. There are studies that demonstrate that a positive environment impacts a person’s ability to be successful. This building will help people feel better about themselves and bring them dignity and hope. It will help them out of their circumstances and into a new life. Also, the community is changing, and this building will be a significant part of the community renewal project currently underway on the Downtown Eastside.

4. What would you say to others who are thinking about getting involved in this project, especially in the business community?

I think that as business leaders it is our duty to lead, not only in our companies, but in our
communities. I’m excited to be a part of this journey and see it become a reality. And it is my sincere hope that others will join in the work to raise up not only a building, but a people and a community. Together we can let people know they matter, and together we can let them know that they, too, can have a better future.

For more information on the project or to get involved, visit ninestoriesofhope.org

Created by BCBusiness in partnership with The Salvation Army