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Humble Beginnings Inspire Toscani's Inter national Philanthropy
By By Matthew E. Pilecki

It took Dominic Toscani L'56 to make a village in Nicaragua. Through his charity foundation Toscani, founder of Paris Business Forms, Inc., dramatically improved living conditions by funding the construction of 10 homes for poor families who had been living in ramshackle structures made of scrap wood and plastic sheeting. Toscani also contributed to families' sustenance, donating goats for milk and meat.
From providing potable water to a remote village in Nigeria to building homes in Nicaragua, Dominic Toscani L'56 has spent his golden years giving back to global and local causes. And if you ask him why, the answer is simple. He's a "product of charity."

Toscani is the founder of Paris Business Forms, Inc., one of the largest paper converters and distributors in North America.

The company was netting profits in the millions by the 1980s and was listed on Forbes' America's 100 Best Small Companies in 1989. At the peak of its success, Toscani established the Caritas Foundation, a private family nonprofit institution. Caritas, Toscani says, is a Latin word which loosely translates to "love charity" and was chosen by his brother, an Augustinian priest.

A majority of the Caritas Foundation's donations have gone to small Catholic colleges "that are faithful to the Magisterium," Toscani says. But when Rev. Paschal Onunwa, a priest from Nigeria, said he was raising money to supply water to a small village in his native land, Toscani was eager to help.

Until 2007, the village in Imo, Nigeria had only one primitive water pump to provide water to its 12,000 citizens. Villagers often resorted to violence after waiting in long lines to bring home a bucket or two of fresh water to their families, Toscani says.

Onunwa's plan consisted of building a water tower in the center of the village that would distribute the water to four different locations throughout the village. And Toscani thought the plan would work, so he paid the entire $40,000 price tag.

"The people no longer had to centralize in one spot so it totally eliminated all of the fighting and bickering," Toscani recalls.

Another instance, Toscani looked south after he read an article in The Catholic Standard & Times, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's official newspaper, about a local priest's efforts to provide housing to destitute families in Nicaragua. The project is known as "Father Chuck's Challenge."

Monsignor Francis Schmidt, who runs the program, hoped to raise enough money to build more than 100 concrete homes for families that otherwise lived in hovels made of scrap wood and plastic sheeting. Better yet, the project had Penn connections - it was named after the late Father Charles Pfeffer, a former chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Toscani met with Schmidt and quickly agreed to fund the first 10 homes. Today, Father Chuck's Challenge has funded the construction of more than 450 homes in five different Nicaraguan villages with plans to extend its outreach to Haiti this year with 150 homes constituting a fishing village.

 Dominic Toscani L'56 feels right at home in the faculty lounge, once a classroom where he took a Trust class with W. Foster Reeve. Toscani went on to start one of the best small companies in America, Paris Business Forms, and to fund water projects in Nigeria and home construction for the poor in Nicaragua.
Dominic Toscani L'56 feels right at home in the faculty lounge, once a classroom where he took a Trust class with W. Foster Reeve. Toscani went on to start one of the best small companies in America, Paris Business Forms, and to fund water projects in Nigeria and home construction for the poor in Nicaragua.
Born in the depths of the Great Depression, Toscani knows the value of charity firsthand. Tragedy struck when his father died just before his fifth birthday, leaving Toscani's mother to raise him and his seven siblings alone in their small South Philadelphia home. When all seemed lost, Toscani and his family turned to their Catholic faith, he says.

It seemed as though his prayers had been heard when he and his brother were accepted into Girard College, a free boarding school for poor orphan boys in Philadelphia, after months on the waiting list. His mother was hesitant, however, because Girard only allowed students to attend Catholic mass once a month.

But the family agreed that the opportunity was too grand to pass up, so Toscani and his brother, Bernard M. Toscani GR'61, started Girard that fall.

While his other siblings dropped out of school by the seventh grade to work part-time at a local tailor shop, Toscani and his brother excelled at Girard. Both received scholarships to Bowdoin College in Maine. The "exceptional" education Toscani received strictly out of charity, combined with his faith, inspired him to give back throughout his life, he says.

"I think it's automatic for me because I was helped so much," he says. "It's only a matter of justice. Why shouldn't I give back?"

Toscani enrolled at Penn Law after serving two years in the Army during the Korean War. He had the good fortune to have two legends, Foster Reeve and Leo Levin, as professors.

Toscani practiced law for twelve years before pursuing a career as an entrepreneur. And throughout his remarkably successful career Toscani never forgot his humble beginnings.

"Self-preservation is inescapable and we all think of ourselves first, but we have to always think of others and serve others," Toscani declares. "That's part of being in a community—helping your teammates, helping the people that share common goals, and helping strangers. That's where the real growth of a community and goodness occurs down to the most basic level."PLJ