CATALYST FOR CHANGE

MARISSA DITORO: Community Champion and Civic Pride Awardee

Written by: Maria Lueda Baldia-Torres


The rallying theme for International Women’s Day on March 8, 2022, is “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”. IWD is an annual event recognized by the United Nations that celebrates the achievements of women in the socio-economic, cultural and political fields, as it continues its resounding cry for gender equality and women’s empowerment, lobby for accelerated gender parity, and fundraise for female-focused charities.


As we celebrate IWD it is an honour to share the inspiring story of Marissa Ditoro, a remarkable, empowered leader, who is passionate and committed to making a difference at Algoma University and in the community.


Marissa, or “Rissa” to her family, or “Nebraska” to her friends when she initially moved from the USA to Canada, is currently the Equity Centre Program Coordinator of Algoma University Students’ Union (AUSU). She graduated from Algoma U in 2020 with an Honours Bachelor of Social Work degree. As a student, she valued the focus of her Social Work curriculum on anti-oppressive practices, highlighting the importance of consultation and collaboration in the community, and allowing her to work with residents and newcomers in Canada through work placement opportunities and the Community Economic & Social Development (CESD) program.


Algoma U Student Life


Her enthusiastic, welcoming and easy-going demeanour made Marissa a popular face on campus, and being involved in various activities and groups shaped her leadership skills and experience. She worked as a Residence Advisor (2016-2020) for the Algoma U Residence Team, and as an athlete for the cross country running and skiing teams for the Algoma U Varsity. Moreover, she held numerous positions for the Algoma University Students’ Union, namely as Women’s Affairs Representative, then as Vice President Student Life and Vice President of Campus Affairs.


Marissa is an impassioned advocate for food security and better services for the Algoma U Varsity teams. She also campaigns for justice for international students and mental health. Her deep love for adventure and other sports like snowboarding, hiking, and biking are contagious as she planned and coordinated student experience events. She enabled opportunities for students to experience Canada’s great outdoors by sharing equipment, transportation and her skills.

Another accomplishment that she is most proud of is the growth of the AUSU Food Pantry. She takes deep pride in being a part of the growth of the service itself, how many students it continuously serves, as well as the personal and professional growth of the team.


Community Champion and Civic Pride Award


Strive Young Professionals Group's (Strive YPG) 5th Annual Algoma Visionary Awards last January 2022, recognized Marissa’s contribution to the school and Soo community by awarding her as the winner of the Community Champion and Civic Pride Award. “It is an honour to be recognized for my work amongst so many accomplished young professionals and community leaders.”, Marissa remarked.


Strive YPG, developed in 2012 by the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, is constantly growing and seeking to recognize young leaders and professionals and assisting them to “reach higher potential through community development, networking events, training opportunities, and recognizing achievements for the purpose of attraction and retention in the community.”


Role Models


During her formative years as a student, athlete, and leader, Marissa surrounded herself with role models- family, friends, roommates, or people whom she has met through involvement in groups and projects at Algoma University.


She mentioned how her coaches for cross country running and skiing motivated her by sharing their passions and encouraging others to do and be their best, especially Coach Cam Wilson, who demonstrated quiet leadership and humility. She recognized how her coaches embodied the spirit of support, kindness, and enthusiasm.


Marissa also acknowledged how Ali Pearson, previous AUSU’s Equity Centre Project Coordinator and co-founder of The Pride Project, inspired her while sharing her values and beliefs, and challenged her to see and consider different perspectives.


Personal Mantras


“Two things can be true at the same time.” is one of Marissa’s personal mantras, a concept that always serves as a reminder that helped her “to slow down and think of several perspectives and multiple truths that can be present at the same time, despite conflicting standpoints.”


“Figure out a way.” is another mantra which although cliche, Marissa finds a lot of truth in when searching hard and figuring out creative ways of accomplishing tasks “Creativity goes a long way in making things happen that otherwise seemed difficult and often gets you a better result (while having more fun along the way).”


“Perception matters just as much as reality.” is another guiding mantra that according to her serves as a reminder “that while a fact may be true, if people perceive something else as true or more important, that often takes precedence and matters more than the actual reality of the situation.”


Support System


Marissa attributes her success to a great support system, her family, friends, and those who work alongside her, with whom she can share her triumphs and achievements. “Most of the time I like to focus on the work and projects themselves rather than my role in them. All of my family live in different cities and countries, so most of the time, I share my accomplishments over the phone. This doesn’t necessarily have the same effect as sharing in person, but seeing my grandparents learn how to use emojis to react to happy messages is almost as good!”


Finding Balance


Finding balance and juggling her responsibilities at work, her involvement in the community, her relationships, and having time to do things on her own is hard but Marissa claims, “It seems to work out in the end. One of the ways that I find helpful to balancing these various areas is seeking out opportunities to build connections in the community with my work at AUSU. I’ve gotten quite good at using different calendars and lists to mark out my time and ensuring I also set out time specifically for adventures, relaxing, or personal time.”


Inspirational Messages to Algoma U Students


Lastly, this young, dynamic persona, an epitome of character and leadership, shared the following inspirational messages of advice to students of her alma mater:


“Find what you are passionate about, pursue them and find ways to weave your passions into your everyday life. When you do something you are passionate about, it feels more effortless and enjoyable to dedicate your time to it. Be enthusiastic about the things you do, even if it’s something small, as it does a great deal to achieve happiness.”


“Support those around you, build relationships, and get involved in as many different things as you can. Take the opportunity while you’re in school to try to be diverse and figure out what you like. There are so many opportunities around you to try new things, join different clubs, and meet new people. Some of the best friendships and relationships that I have today were formed during my time in the university.”


“Take time to explore while you’re in school, whether that be exploring new places, learning things about yourself, or challenging yourself with new experiences and opportunities. University is a time of growth and opportunity to challenge what you know about the world and yourself, so take this time to explore, find the adventure in those things, and enjoy the journey.”


Reference:

International Women’s Day. (n.d.). About International Women’s Day. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.internationalwomensday.com/about


Strive Young Professionals Group. (2022, February 11). About Us. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.striveypg.com/about-us/