In Conversation: Ross Di Biasi Needs Your Help!
This West Island Volunteer Is Asking For Your Help With Donating Old Tools & Bikes For A Very Important Community Project.
On any given day, you may find Ross Di Biasi riding his motorcycle, enjoying time with his newly adopted dog or doing something that he's been passionate about for decades: giving back to his community. After years of service as a police officer, Di Biasi is enjoying his retirement by volunteering his time with CFER Riverdale, a recycling program that gives students ages 15+ an alternative way of learning and prepares them for the world of work. Always one to lend a hand, Ross began volunteering with the program and has since created several initiatives, including his famous bike fundraisers. Kris Artuso sat down with Ross for an exclusive interview.
Kris: Explain to us a little bit about what CFER is.
Ross: So basically, it's a work program, where students learn how the job field works. At this CFER (there are various ones) they recycle old computer parts. Yesterday, I brought in a flat screen TV that one of my sons had. He didn't secure it onto the wall just right (chuckles) and it ripped off the wall and fell onto the floor. People would then normally throw that in the garbage. Instead, I brought it in to CFER. They'll take it apart and some of the pieces they're actually able to recycle and sell!
Kris: And it's students that work there if I'm correct?
Ross: Yes, students along with educators like (Work Placement Animator) Sonya Vann.
I got to meet some of the teachers 'cause my son is also one of the 40-some odd students there. They're great students and unfortunately the school system does not function for them. It seems that today there's always a quick fix for kids with different abilities. My son doesn't get math. What seems like common sense to us doesn't always register with him...but if I put him on the phone right now, you'd be really impressed (proudly)!
Kris: I don't doubt it! Essentially, you've been involved with, not only CFER, but your community for pretty much all your life?
Ross: Yes. For me, it's important. I believe we're all one, you know? And, what goes around, comes around.
Kris: How did you start your bike project?
Ross: I'm a member of the Blue Knights and one of the directors of the West Island chapter. Once a year, you have to implicate yourself in the community- because we do raise money and that money has to go back somewhere. I got some donated bikes, I got my tools- I'm savvy so I started fixing them up and asked Sonya if any of the kids were interested. Covid hit so I wanted to make sure the kids stayed off the buses and you know, a little exercise never hurts as well (chuckles). Then it snowballed.
Kris: Do you get any funding?
Ross: Yes, I got some funding from Greg Kelley, MNA.
Kris: I've heard that this started out in your garage?
Ross: Yeh, I was working from my own garage and at one point I had to tell Sonya I was running out of space for bikes. I said, I live in a house, I don't own an "entrepôt" (laughing). She told me they'd figure something out and this year, I got a spot in the school, a bigger room. I have all my tools and bikes there!
Kris: Were you going around just asking people for bikes??
Ross: Well I went on VarageSale and wound up finding tools as well.
Kris: That's amazing. Is there a positive response?
Ross: For sure! At this point, the bikes are donated by whoever wants to and I'll even go pick them up. Sonya has been given so many too. Tools are all donated as well. We got 500$ from Greg Kelley and I know we're working on possible fundings with other companies, associations & programs.
Kris: If somebody's reading this and wants to donate tools or bikes, who would they contact?
Ross: They can contact Sonya at 514-898-9444.
Kris: It's amazing that you don't just collect the bikes- but you also choose to teach the kids. Not everyone would do that.
Ross: I'm all about teaching the next guy. It doesn't take much. Just a little know-how and patience.
You know, when I grew up, I wasn't rich. I bought my first bike but money was scarce. My friend and I would fix our own bikes but one day, I messed it up. There used to be a store on St-Lawrence street called Baggio so I went and bought a tool from them. The man working there saw me and said "Well why don't you come to the back and actually see how it's done?" So I learnt with him.
Kris: That's amazing.
Ross: Of course! So the other day, I was working with a kid, Ryan. He asked me "wow, where did you learn to do that?" I told him I learnt things over the years and now that I taught him, he can go off and teach someone else. It's really all about: "If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."
CFER Riverdale accepts any donated bicycle and can be picked up or dropped off. Any tools, new or old that can be donated would also be appreciated. For more information, contact Sonya Vann st 514-898-9444