He has shoes to fill at Center

Author: Joseph Dits, Tribune staff writer

New director feels the need to listen before leading way p. SOUTH BEND — In a room packed with most of the residents of the Center for the Homeless, Tina Neil stood up Wednesday and asked a pointed question of the clean-cut young man at the front.

“I want to know if you’ve been in anyone’s shoes this year?” she asked of Steve Camilleri, who’d just been introduced as the Center’s new director.

He was honest. He hasn’t this year.

There were plenty more of those questions. Camilleri’s nerves were full of excitement as he took the first step in one of the community’s most prominent nonprofit jobs. The Center announced Wednesday that 32-year-old Camilleri would be director starting Aug. 15.

Talking about the meeting afterwards, Camilleri said he tried to explain: “Each of you has a unique gift, and I want to learn about that gift.”

He said a lot of residents asked about his plans for the Center. He told them he had to listen to them first, to learn the ropes: “Big visions start with small steps. There’s an amazing 16 years here (in the Center’s history) and I’m just one small person.”

Like the previous two directors — Lou Nanni and Drew Buscareno — Camilleri is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, which played a critical role in founding and shaping the Center — and still does.

After his undergraduate studies, he was one of the first students to enter Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, which trained and sent him to teach for two years in a poor Catholic school in Hammond, La.

He returned to work in development for Notre Dame and served as ministries director at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

For the past five years, he has directed Notre Dame’s Vocation Initiative, which uses funds from the Lilly Endowment to guide high school and Notre Dame students, along with alumni and faculty and staff, in a theological search of their vocations.

That job takes him traveling a lot, running retreats in 20 different cities. That, he said, is partly why he hasn’t been able to volunteer recently at the Center.

Camilleri said won’t start work at the Center for the Homeless until August because he has commitments to fulfill at his current post.

Until then, he said he’ll be learning about the Center.

Already, in a hallway, he was posing questions of Debbie Lane about the relationship with the local school districts. She was just starting out as the Center’s director of adult education, a “newbie” herself, when Camilleri came to volunteer 10 years ago. “He was just a baby,” she recalled.

Lane’s department has changed and grown a lot since he last worked for her, she said. But she’s glad that he at least had that experience.

“He knows what we do … and I’m constantly pushing for more money in education,” she said.

The director’s job was vacated in December after Buscareno stepped down and became Notre Dame’s assistant vice president for university relations.

Brian Connor will continue as the Center’s interim director until Camilleri, his close friend and neighbor, will begin work.

Steve Camilleri p. Age: 32 Hometown: Levittown, N.Y. Family: Wife is Erin, who is expecting their first child in July. Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing and sociology from the University of Notre Dame, master’s in nonprofit administration from Notre Dame, master’s in teaching from the University of Portland.

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