Gifts At Work
The Chance They Deserve
When Joe, LC’66, UC’68, and Donna LaBonté traveled to Northeastern to attend an informational meeting and dinner about the Torch Scholars Program in 2007, little did they know they would soon forge a close and lasting relationship with two of its inaugural scholars: Nadia Alvarez and Joey Bordieri.
When Nadia stepped up to the microphone and relayed her moving account of her journey to Northeastern, the LaBontés knew that this was the type of program they wanted to support. The innovative Torch Scholars program is designed to assist those who have overcome exceptional odds and demonstrate the potential to excel academically.
“The Torch program had just come into being at that time and we said: ‘This is exactly the kind of program we’ve been looking for,’” said Donna who, with her husband Joe, has generously supported the program. “All the students who we met that night truly touched our hearts.”
Joe, the first in his family to go to college, also felt an instant connection. “We didn’t grow up in the circumstances that they did, but we did grow up in working-class families that lived paycheck-to-paycheck, so we can relate.”
On visits to California, both Nadia and Joey make it a point to visit the LaBontés. In fact, Donna and Joe were among the first people Nadia and Joey told about their decision to become engaged.
“When I first met the LaBontés, they hugged me as if they had known me forever. I think of them as mentors, friends and family,” said Nadia, who plans on inviting the LaBontés to the wedding, slated for after their 2011 graduation.
“They’re just great young people, and I can see them in the long run having a wonderful life together,” said Joe, who is a member of Northeastern’s governing board. “When we think about Nadia and Joey and the way they have grown up, it’s a thrill to know that we had an opportunity to help them. That’s what we get excited about.”
After graduating from Northeastern and Harvard Business School, Joe’s successful career included president and COO of 20th Century Fox’s non-theatrical companies and top executive positions at Reebok International and Jenny Craig. He also founded The Vantage Group, a venture capital and investment banking firm.
The scope of the LaBontés’ philanthropy and activism extends beyond the Torch Scholars Program. In the 1990s the couple became involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Appalled by the classroom conditions in the black township schools, Donna organized the donation of more than 125,000 books. They also welcomed Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela when they visited Boston.Today, the LaBontés reside in California. They have two children and six grandchildren.