To people living in the rest of the world, the devastation of last April’s Boston Marathon bombing unfolded on TV screens, Internet feeds, and radio news flashes. For Sal Di Stefano, the horror hit much closer to home. A resident of East Boston located less than 10 miles from the marathon finish line, Di Stefano felt honored for the opportunity to take an active role in the City of Boston’s response to the attack.
As the industrial and commercial senior sector manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Di Stefano received an urgent summons from Mayor Thomas Menino’s office to join approximately 20 other city employees, including Di Stefano’s wife, Maria, to provide emergency assistance to the businesses affected by the bombing and subsequent evacuations. He helped set up mobile information centers, answered questions, listened to people’s personal stories, and offered comfort and support.
“I was happy to play some part in trying to help the city get back to normal,” Di Stefano said. “It was difficult. Hearing first-hand accounts times 300, it wears on you.Nobody was prepared to deal with what they dealt with. But people really came together.”
Di Stefano’s role on the mayor’s business response team naturally evolved from the duties he fulfills every day in his work for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. As manager of Boston Back Streets, he provides assistance to industrial and commercial businesses in an effort to retain and attract companies. He works on matters related to financing, real estate, workforce training, and zoning.
“It’s a job that even after nine years I’m still excited about,” Di Stefano said. “I’m helping people keep jobs not just in the city but really in this country, too, because lots of times when companies pick up and move, sometimes they’ll go down South or overseas. That can devastate families, because these are blue-collar jobs. I’ve helped several companies move to Boston – hundreds of jobs, tens of thousands of square feet – and I think the passion to help people comes through in what I do.”
When reflecting on the values that guide him both in work and in life, Di Stefano traces the roots of those values not only to his parents and family, but in great measure to his years at Stritch. He gives credit to people like retired professor Dr. Pravin Kamdar, former campus minister Sister Adele Thibaudeau, OSF, ’67, and former president Sister Mary Lea Schneider, OSF, who were among the people who encouraged and inspired him.
“You could tell when you walked into the building that it was a different place,” Di Stefano said of Stritch. “I do think when you choose a school like Stritch, you’re not just passing tests and getting through classes. I think the focus and the emphasis on the Franciscan values is life changing. It teaches you that there is more to life than just business; it’s more than just a bottom line.”
While a student, Di Stefano served as president of the business club, a vice president in the Student Government Association, and in various capacities in campus ministry. He traveled to India with Kamdar and three other students to deepen his understanding of business in an international setting.
Di Stefano relied on his lessons from Stritch to guide him as he dealt with a difficult tenant earlier this year. He and his wife, Maria, own a self-storage business and six apartment buildings, and received the “Landlord of the Year” award from the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership for their outreach and patience during a sensitive situation with their tenant.
In his leisure time, Di Stefano cherishes time with his family, including sons 5-year-old Gerardo and 3-year-old Sal, Jr. They enjoy vacations in northern Maine, sailing in Boston Harbor, and serving organizations including the East Boston YMCA. He and Maria sit on the Boston YMCA board, and Di Stefano is honored by his recent election as the board’s chair. He is heading up a project that will create a commercial kitchen at the YMCA to teach struggling families how to make healthy meals.
In the midst of their busy life, Sal and Maria Di Stefano also appeared on two nationally televised shows in recent years. Four years ago, “Sell This House” on A&E selected them from 5,000 applicants and turned their life and house upside-down for one crazy week. Earlier this year, they met Guy Fieri, host of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” as he featured their friends’ restaurant, the Italian Express Pizzeria. Sal Di Stefano appeared on the show, while Maria Di Stefano arranged a key appearance by Menino.
“It is crazy how we end up on these shows!” Sal Di Stefano said.
In reflecting on his 15 years in Boston, his young family, and a job he loves, Di Stefano feels good about where life led him to this point.
“Things are great. We are really blessed.”
Photo by Isabel Leon