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The Man of the 13th floor

by revolucionlatina

We talk with Tom Viola who leads a multimillion dollar organization that helps 100s of thousands of people in need around the Globe! A fearless leader, a compassionate human being and a dog lover. Tom has occupied the role of mentor, guide, teacher and friend to RL.

What do you love about leading BC/EFA?
TV: What makes this job so special are the people with whom I am able to engage and work with around all variety of efforts. Many are folks whose paths likely would never have crossed mine were it not for BC/EFA’s mission and our shared personal and professional commitment to do some good reaching beyond ourselves to make a difference. Everything we do here on the 13th floor is very much a team effort, one that is empowered by many communities coming together in common cause. While I take my responsibilities of “leader” very seriously, what matters most to me is how we all come together in some kind off-shared good will that in ways large and small creates the social change that makes someone’s day a bit better, creating a positive energy for them. And sure, I have to confess that at times I do take a quiet pride in thinking, “Know what? Only I could have made that decision. And it mattered.”

What has been the hardest thing in your life? The thing that at some point scared you? How did you overcome it?
TV: Hmmm… Learning not to second guess myself from some place of fear or not being enough. Or worse, feeling that to make any kind of difference I have to be perfect, or do something exactly right or as expected first time at bat. And believe me, as a kid I was terrible and consequently terribly intimidated by up at bat. Off some playing field I really had to learn that the joy was in the doing and less the result. And that the doing would include missteps, failing and screwing up. Our most important experiences are more in the recovery and re-doing than immediate, smooth success.


Do you have a favorite spot for important lunch meetings?
TV:While I’m somewhat a creature of habit, favorite places come and go.I have pretty simple tastes, so menus don’t matter as much as the people around the table.

What is your favorite NYC place to decompress?
TV: That has changed as I’ve gotten older. I don’t hang or go out nearly like I did twenty years ago. So these days, I love those evenings that I can just be at home on the couch with the dogs, thinking that if I can hear the TV with my eyes closed, I am actually watching whatever is on.

Do you have a favorite place to walk the dogs?
TV: Hmmm. We have a regular routine of around the block first thing in the morning and once I get home from work, coupled to them accompanying me back and forth to the office on weekends or on whatever errands I might be on. The best part of living with Gracie and Sophie is the joy with which they greet me at the door, whether I’ve been away for 15 minutes or all day or away out of town. No matter how long, as I open the apartment door the barks, licking and jumps translate to “You’re back!! We thought you’d never get here!!”

What is your absolute favorite story to tell? Personal or work related.
TV: This isn’t a personal story. It’s a quote that I love and believe wholeheartedly. Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” I think it’s very true and in both my best and somewhat less than best moments I try to remember that. How do I want to be remembered. So how do you want to behave?

If you could see the color of your laughter what color would it be? Why?
TV: I don’t know about my laughter. I’m more a giggler than a guffaw-er. But my favorite color is blue. So maybe that’s it. A deep cobalt blue or the kind of blue/green you see in the waters of the Caribbean or in Banderas Bay off the coast of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
TV: One place??? That’s tough, there are so many places I’d love to go back to and then a long list of others I haven’t been to yet. And there’s also so many “vistas” I’ve seen that I’d love to experience again but remember very fondly, often depending who I was with. Anywhere in the world for the day: Paris. One of those gorgeous moments: Sunrise on the beach at Fire Island with my dogs, off leash.

Since this is REvLat Magazine, we would be remiss if we didn’t ask you about your relationship with RL as an affiliate of BC/EFA?
TV: R.Evolución Latina brings a wonderful, unique energy to all we do. Even just the day to day at the office, bumping into each other, the jostling in the kitchen, the support we offer each other informally and for specific big events and projects. I have always thought that there is incredible value, great opportunity offered by mixing it up with all variety of people, particularly those considered “different” from what some might assume I am in background, experience, challenges and dreams. I was raised an Italian Catholic boy in suburban Pittsburgh in the 60’s. A white kid, like mostly all we saw on TV then. As a kid, I went to art school on Saturdays in downtown Pittsburgh, a part of the city that at that time many of the parents in my suburban neighborhood might have considered “other” or dangerous. For some reason, my parents said “Go! And by the way, get home on your own on the streetcar. We can’t pick you up.” I came to love getting home from downtown as much as the art classes at Carnegie Museum themselves. I had been a very cautious little kid, somewhat scared of anything new or unfamiliar. But it was like my world exploded and that kid from 4th through 10th grade became intrigued by everything that wasn’t a part of my neighborhood on suburban Oaklyn Road. It created a comfort with “difference,” if that makes sense, that has served me well as an adult. Sure, I got myself into a little trouble, especially once I was in high school. But these trips downtown actually opened me up to adventure as an adolescent and teenager. R.Evolución Latina is a part of that adventure. R.Evolución Latina offers a unique viewpoint and a creative passion that enhances what it is to be a part of BC/EFA.

R.Evolución Latina would not be able to run as it does without the leadership and support of its leaders. Tom Viola, Executive director of BC/EFA has been at the helm of this organization for the past 23 years and is one of the main reasons why RL is able to contribute so much to the community.