Patrick Rugiero, executive director of the Roman Village Restaurant Group, which includes Roman Village Cucina Italiana in Dearborn and Antonio’s Cucina Italiana locations in Dearborn Heights, Canton Township, and Farmington Hills, is chairman of the Life Directions 45th Annual Spark of Hope Tribute Gala fundraiser. The event will be held on Saturday, May 19, from 6-11 p.m. at the General Motors Wintergarden in Detroit’s Renaissance Center, and will feature a plated dinner, live and silent auctions, entertainment, and more. The gala will honor two Life Directions’ supporters for their contributions, including the Lifetime Achievement Award to Terry Larkin, executive vice president, business development, and general counsel at Lear Corp. in Southfield, and chairman of Life Directions’ board of trustees; and the Guiding Light Award to Jack Aronson, co-founder of Clean Planet Foods in Clinton Township. Aronson and his wife, Annette, founded Garden Fresh in Ferndale, which in 2015 they sold to Campbell Soup Co. for $231 million. Clean Planet Foods produces proteins and other healthy entrees in a USDA manufacturing facility.
DBusiness Daily News interviewed Rugiero about his work in the community and what guests can expect at the Gala.
DDN: How has Life Directions performed over the last year?
PR: Life Directions is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973 in Detroit that pairs at-risk teens and young adults with peers who have experienced their own share of trouble and have since corrected their ways. Last year, the organization provided enrichment and peer motivation programs to 1,100 teens and adults via community service projects, leadership training, and team-building exercises. The goal is to expand the program — a self-funded operation — across Detroit.
DDN: What are you doing to expand programming?
PR: I like to support programs where almost all of the money, 90 percent or more, actually goes to the respective nonprofit organization. So Life Directions fulfills that need. It’s an amazing program that does phenomenal work in the community by working with young people. Our youth today have so much information coming at them, and sometimes they turn down the wrong road and get in trouble, especially if they don’t have a lot of support around them. Life Directions provides that support. So it’s been a real experience.
DDN: Why do you think peer-to-peer mentorship is helpful for young students?
PR: We pair our young people who have dropped out of school or who are struggling for one reason or another with older peers who have gone through similar adversity. With events like the Spark of Hope Tribute Gala, we can raise more money to expand the program. With more corporate donations, more people will have access to good jobs.
DDN: What are some of the gala highlights this year?
PR: The live auction includes a double suite at Comerica Park for a Detroit Tigers game, we have a villa in Italy where people can stay for a whole week and explore the countryside and cities of Italy, there are Red Wings packages, and a Grand Prix package with paddock passes, among other items. For the silent auction, we have tickets to all the major sporting events in Detroit, watches from Brazen Sports and Shinola, jewelry from Ahee Jewelry, and many other items. The entertainment will be Ben Sharkey and his three musicians, and our sponsors include Lear Corp. General Motor Co., Beaumont Health, Absopure Water Co., Clean Planet Foods, and O’Brien Construction Co.
DDN: You have a unique auction item this year?
PR: Yes, we have a 2018 TA2 Trans-Am Series race car, which is a Chevrolet Camaro. Douglas Peterson, owner of 3-Dimential Services Group, generously donated the branding rights to the 3-Dimensional Services Group Trans Am Series race car that will compete in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear (on Sunday June 3) on Belle Isle. We already sold out the car sponsorship to 3-Dimentional, Lear, and Clean Planet Foods. All of the proceeds will benefit Life Directions. It’s a unique ROI for our sponsors, and the goal is to bring it back each year. The 3-Dimentional race car is wrapped and ready to go, and we want to thank Douglas Peterson and the other companies that worked on this like The Fulkerson Group in Birmingham, Penske Corp., General Motors, and the Trans-Am Series.