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Local Senator becomes nonprofit president, CEO

Mark Parker

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State Sen. Nick DiCeglie will now lead Clearwater-based Hope Villages of America. Photo: Facebook.

State Sen. Nick DiCeglie already serves about 550,000 constituents throughout southwest Pinellas County; he will now help ensure 150,000 have food and many more find shelter and receive critical services.

Hope Village of America’s (HVA) governing board announced Tuesday that they appointed DiCeglie as the nonprofit’s new president and CEO. Chief Operating Officer Melinda Perry has filled the role on a interim basis since December 2022.

The appointment stems from a decades-long desire to increase his work with charitable organizations, DiCeglie told the Catalyst. The Republican lawmaker felt the “timing was right” to take advantage of a unique opportunity.

“Whether it’s working here at Hope Villages of America, my service in the Legislature or what I’ve done with the church and the Pinellas County business community, I have a servant’s heart,” DiCeglie said. “And my family does – we share those values – and this is just a very exciting opportunity for me right now.”

After experiencing lawsuits, funding losses and mass resignations in recent years, HVA has a well-known local commodity in a leadership role. The Clearwater-based nonprofit’s longtime CEO, Kirk Ray Smith, resigned in December 2022 after an entire volunteer committee stepped down due to alleged mistreatment.

Melinda Perry will continue to serve as HVA’s COO. Photo provided.

Perry, a former St. Petersburg Housing Authority executive, has spent the last six months righting the ship. DiCeglie said the previous drama is “a non-issue at this point” and called Perry an “all-star.”

“She’s playing – and will continue to play – a very large and important role in our mission,” he added. “The staff here is unbelievable, the volunteers are incredible, and we’ve got a lot of great things going here.”

HVA distributes over six million pounds of food annually, feeding about 150,000 people throughout the area. It launched a mobile food pantry last year that now makes more than 150 regular stops.

The organization provides subsidized housing for low-income residents, and space for youth who age out of foster care. Staff and volunteers assist with nearly 4,000 domestic abuse calls annually.

DiCeglie’s first introduction to the nonprofit came in 2011 when it was known as Religious Community Services (RCS). He has followed it since, and what he noticed will help guide his first steps as president and CEO.

“It was pretty obvious to me that this organization needs to get connected to community leaders in Pinellas County,” DiCeglie said. “Reconnected to those community leaders, in some cases. That outreach will include the religious community, which is what prompted the creation of the organization back in 1967.”

DiCeglie previously served as president of Solar Sanitation, a family-owned local waste management company. He believes his business ties will bolster corporate connections and help reengage some donors who stopped contributing.

He is also a former State Representative, and DiCeglie said appealing to elected officials would probably be the least-challenging aspect of his latest role. He noted that increasing fundraising efforts is essential to providing extensive services.

“I’m already well on my way to having those conversations, setting up meetings for coffee and really just letting everybody know what we do and what they can do to help,” DiCeglie said. “So far, it’s been a very effective and exciting first week.”

While HVA already has a broad scope, he agrees with organizational leadership that there is room to expand the food bank, domestic violence services and transitional housing initiatives. DiCeglie also relayed that human trafficking is an increasing problem in Pinellas and nationwide.

He wants to create housing for trafficking victims and called that a “huge opportunity” to fill an unmet need. He believes HVA has the infrastructure and staff needed to tackle complex issues.

DiCeglie said his roots and relationships would also help him achieve those goals. He added that his time in the Legislature helped expand his network and prepared him to lead the nonprofit.

DiCeglie remains unconcerned with any potential conflicts of interest between his two roles. He also noted that he no longer oversees Solar Sanitation’s daily operations, and serving as a lawmaker is “technically a part-time job.”

His full-time job is now president and CEO of HVA, and he expressed his excitement to help people through increasingly “tough times.”

“We’re helping folks; we’re changing lives in many ways,” DiCeglie said. “Not only are we going to continue to do that, but we’re certainly going to look to grow and expand our reach and the services that we provide.”

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