In July of this year, Pete Angilello, a retired librarian from Wisconsin, entered the world of philanthropy head-on. He, along with some close friends, created a seed-fund program, known as The Canary Fund, to support activists, visionaries, and changemakers in Northeast Wisconsin who are working to address unmet needs in their communities—or, in other words, to support those people who see what others often don’t.
This sentiment of seeing what others overlook—or choose to ignore—is important to Angilello. Last year, Angilello lost his husband, Jim Rivett. In a eulogy written for Rivett by a dear friend, Vinnie Smith, Smith shared how in the 1900s canaries were often brought into coal mines because of their sensitivity to toxic gases that might be present. “Jim had the ability to see in our communities what many of us could not see,” Smith said. “He was our canary.”
According to Angilello, Rivett always had this unique kind of vision, to see what others saw as invisible or unpleasant to view. As a child and an adult, Rivett was deeply aware of “throwaways”—objects that people deemed as useless or no longer needed, objects in which Rivett discovered treasure and art. Angilello recalls:
“Jim’s mom would often tell stories about him, at a young age, leaving the driveway on garbage pick-up days with his little rusted wagon and coming home with all sorts of finds from neighbor’s throwaways. Each of those treasured objects had a story hidden inside.
In 1996 after working in the graphic design industry for several years, Jim was feeling like there had to be more to life than designing pretty consumer packages that ultimately ended up in the recycling bin. After we visited some friends in Costa Rica…he then asked for my blessing to spend nearly a year in Costa Rica. There, he was connected to an organization where he volunteered in an orphanage for sexually abused children, created murals with young people at a primary school and built houses to relocate Nicaraguan refugee families who had made their homes under bridges. The concept of ‘throwaways’ began to take on a new meaning as he worked with families and children that lived on the margins of society.”
Upon returning from Costa Rica, Rivett continued in his quest to illuminate the world’s throwaways for all to see and worked within his communities in Northeast Wisconsin to bring that light. When Rivett passed in 2018, Angilello knew the most fitting way to honor his husband’s memory was to create a fund–through donations from Jim’s friends, family, co-workers, and community members–that supported the very throwaways of society that Rivett so lovingly hoped to re-discover.
This year, Angilello and The Canary Fund partnered with The Pollination Project for its “Seeds to Deeds” program, in which the Fund will award grants between $1,500 and $5,000 to individual changemakers within Northeast Wisconsin.
Rivett and The Canary Fund’s emphasis on the individual’s power to create change is especially meaningful to The Pollination Project, which seeks, in part, to uplift individuals and community groups that aren’t necessarily recognized as registered or established organizations by offering funding and support to early-stage projects. The funds from The Canary Fund will help to provide acknowledgement and validation to these individuals and community groups and show, through the grantees’ actions, that we all—like Rivett—have the power to change the world for the better if we only just choose to open our eyes and see.