By Michael J. Billoni
My wife, Debbie, is truly an amazing person. I am sure every married man can say that and, in each case, it is probably true. What simply astounds me about Debbie is her ability to juggle so many extremely important balls in the air without dropping any and without showing any signs of stress.
Debbie has been the director of finance and operations at the International Institute of Buffalo since 2009. While being responsible for all areas of finance, human resources and technology for a 30-person staff, she returned to school to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in financial business administration from Hilbert College and a master's degree in accounting proficiency from Daemen College, graduating in May 2014 magna cum laude.
She grew up being taught that education was extremely important, but a close second was helping others. Through our nine years of marriage, her extracurricular activities have been numerous. We live on Grand Island and she serves as the treasurer of the Grand Island Republican Party and was appointed chairwoman of the town's Board of Ethics.
The Erie County Legislature re-appointed her to a second three-year term on the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women. Two of Debbie's passions are to fight for equality for women in the workplace and to put an end to domestic violence.
Mike and Deb with Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, center, whom Deb arranged to have speak at the Twentieth Century Club on behalf of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women. Davuluri is from Syracuse.
On Sept. 26 at Isle View Park in Tonawanda, Debbie and her fellow commissioners will join the county executive and legislators in cutting the ribbon for this area's first Tribute Garden for victims of domestic violence. It coincides with the annual bike-a-thon and walk as the community takes a bold stand against domestic violence. Please join us that morning.
Debbie also is an active member of the Rotary Club of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a member of the Twentieth Century Club of Buffalo and chair of its Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park's Armed Forces Tribute Day with the Buffalo Bisons in May.
She is also chair and chief financial officer of our family business, Billoni Associates.
On Thursday, Sept. 17, Debbie will receive public recognition for all of her hard work when she receives a prestigious 2015 Business First Women of Influence Award as a Community Supporter. The luncheon is sponsored by Lake Shore Savings Bank and Debbie and the other recipients will be featured in a special tabloid produced by Business First. Candace Johnson, Ph.D., president of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, will receive the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award at the luncheon.
What truly impresses me about my wife is her decision to join her friend, Suzanne Taylor, on a Habitat for Humanity International Work Project in Nepal in early November with former President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and their foundation.
Debbie became extremely interested in this mission because of her work at the International Institute of Buffalo. For the past six years, the U.S. Department of State has granted the institute many new arrivals from countries with political unrest. A number of these refugees are from Nepal and they are now making their new home on the West Side of Buffalo and working in our community.
Debbie's expectation is to work with some of these refugees' relatives in Nepal, who remain there living in poverty and without adequate housing.
Despite the recent news about President Carter's health, the trip will go on and he remains optimistic that he will be able to attend. The 2015 Carter Work Project will take place near Bharatpur, Nepal's fifth-largest city and about 100 miles west of the capital, Kathmandu.
Debbie and the other volunteers will work with 100 families in the Dalit caste, a minority group that occupies the lowest rung in the Nepali caste system. Many work as construction laborers, farmers and garbage collectors or at a nearby poultry farm.
These families currently live in grass and thatch huts with dirt floors. Their need for adequate housing is urgent and obvious. The volunteers will replace these simple huts with permanent housing the residents can call home. Debbie is excited about the transformation thousands of volunteers from around the world will bring to this community.
Habitat for Humanity Nepal has worked since 1997 to address the need for decent and affordable housing, serving more than 50,000 families through housing microfinance programs, providing financial training and working with families to build their houses. Habitat for Humanity Nepal supports the preservation of the natural environment and actively promotes the development and use of sustainable building materials such as bamboo and clay. These materials will be incorporated into the homes built during this year's work project.
Each of the volunteers has been asked to make a donation to Habitat Nepal to assist with the procurement of supplies. If you would like to be part of Debbie's donation, please click on either of the links below. There is also an opportunity to send a check on the donate page that would still credit Debbie.
If you would like to contact Deb directly, you may reach her at [email protected].
Michael J. Billoni is a former award-winning journalist for the Tonawanda News, Buffalo Courier-Express and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. He was the vice president and general manager of the Buffalo Bisons and is a member of its Baseball Hall of Fame. A resident of Grand Island, Billoni also is a freelance writer for the Island Dispatch. He is president of his family business, Billoni Associates.
Mike can be reached at [email protected].