A Family’s Personal Tragedy and a
Burning Desire to Make Life Better
For People With Life-Threatening Illnesses
Story by Karen Tinsley
Photography Courtesy In Honour of the Ones We Love
In 1997, Anita Imperioli founded In Honour of the Ones We Love (In Honour) “to make sure no one in Windsor Essex has to hear that the lifesaving equipment or treatment their loved one needs is not available here at home; that they must travel to London, Toronto or the United States. I know because this happened to my family.”
Although cancer was the main focus of In Honour in the beginning, Anita explains, “Over the years we realized that families living with other life-threatening illnesses, disabilities, special needs and mental illness were also in need.”
With Anita at the helm of In Honour (bolstered by the unwavering support of husband Sergio, daughters Tina and Laura, her grandchildren and an army of sponsors, donors, families, volunteers and friends) and armed with a mighty mission, “our 25-year journey has been full of challenges. However, each In Honour accomplishment has better-equipped our community to overcome healthcare obstacles. With the thought of keeping patients and families from traveling out of town for tests, diagnoses and treatments top of mind, we’ve conducted many hours of research. “In Honour has one purpose and one focus: our community. When we see a need, first we mobilize our team. Then we do whatever we need to do to make each project a reality. You can see and touch what we’ve made happen,” she says.
Several examples that Windsor Essex residents can see and touch thanks to In Honour:
• A blood lab, CT scanner and brachytherapy (specialized internal radiation) equipment at Windsor Regional Cancer Centre
• The 8-bed Mark Rotondi Palliative Care Home at Hospice Windsor Essex
• Family accommodations at Windsor’s Ronald McDonald House
• A purpose-built, inclusive, accessible, therapeutic children’s daycare floor at John McGivney Children’s Centre
• Kids Beating Cancer, a therapeutic martial arts program that has helped more than 500 children since its inception
The “Other Epidemic”
Did you know that 70% of people living with mental illness experience symptoms before they reach the age of 18?
Long before the isolation resulting from extended pandemic lockdowns and online learning, youth and young adult mental illness had already gained a reputation as “the other epidemic”. The Canadian Mental Health Association ranks suicide among the leading causes of death for 15-24-year-olds; young people aged 16-29 have the highest incidence of mental illness of any age group in our country.
Anita says, “Mental illness impacts the homes, learning institutions and workplaces not only of the kids and young adults themselves, but also their families, friends and peers. Also known as the ‘silent epidemic’, it’s estimated that up to 20% of young Canadians are living with it. And although things have come a long way, mental illness is still shrouded in shame, stigma and denial.”
That’s why In Honour funds many major initiatives to improve mental health and resilience in children, youth and adults. Whether it’s helping to reduce months-long waiting lists for care, delivering clinical services, therapeutic programming or breakfast programs, In Honour is there for our community.
What sets In Honour apart?
“For any charity, the number one overarching challenge is raising money. Even in a stable economy, fundraising is not easy, nor is it a given. In Honour has seen its share of setbacks over the past 25 years,
but fortunately, we have not only survived, we are thriving,” Anita shares.
She believes In Honour is unique for several rea-sons: “First, every dollar we raise stays right here in Windsor Essex; second, we are efficient and know how to keep our costs down; third, if we raise a million dollars, we donate every penny of that million dollars; and finally, we do our homework. We make sure donations are used appropriately.”
A devastating family tragedy comes full-circle
Shortly after he was born in 1980, Anita and Sergio’s son Michael became gravely ill.
While the family wandered the halls of Ontario and U.S. medical facilities and hospitals waiting, worrying and praying, medical professionals struggled to find answers.
Eventually diagnosed with the highly predatory pediatric cancer neuroblastoma, Michael spent months in intensive care before he passed away at Children’s Hospital in Michigan. He was only 1 year old.
Anita recalls calls, “I became well-acquainted with unrelenting grief, anger and depression in the dark days, weeks and months that followed our traumatic loss. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Raised by immigrant parents who instilled in Anita the concept of giving back, one of her goals had always been to make a difference in her community.
“My own family’s tragedy motivated me to look for a way to transform it into something tangible and meaningful. On our journey with Michael, it was clear that Windsor Essex lacked vital healthcare equipment, treatment and resources. In Honour was our response; working to ensure other families have access to what they need—when they need it, right here at home.”
“My husband Sergio is “the man behind the curtain”, my two daughters have grown up within In Honour and today, both of them work by my side. All of my grandchildren from age 4 to 16 year are at every In Honour event from golf tournaments to galas, doing whatever needs to be done. We’re in it together!”
“And it’s all thanks to Michael. In Honour exists because of him. He showed us the reason why and the way. He is our inspiration. My 40-years-strong connection to Children’s Hospital in Michigan (where we spent so many of our last days together) is something I know he is proud of, as he is of In Honour’s many accomplishments.”
“Every day, I am deeply grateful. Since opening our doors in 1997, In Honour has taken proactive, innovative strides to address vital gaps in community healthcare. I look forward to our next chapter.”