THOSE WHO KNOW Danny Pivnick probably weren’t surprised when the 50-year-old Forest Hiller recently donated a $10,000 scholarship to Toronto’s contentious Africentric school.
After all, as a teacher in countries such as China and Guatemala, a tour guide in Thailand and a volunteer at Meals on Wheels and Out of the Cold, Pivnick has spent nearly a lifetime putting himself in others’ shoes.
“Part of it is I’m a little bit selfish,” says Pivnick. “I’m just trying to understand others and the world a little better.”
Pivnick’s interest in community started young, under the influence of his father — a local politician and the last reeve of Forest Hill before the the 1960s amalgamation with Toronto. “He had a big social conscience,” says Pivnick.
The interest continued after he graduated from what is now Forest Hill Collegiate and entered York University for a bachelor’s degree in sociology. “We used to joke that the only thing you could do with a sociology degree was open a sociology store,” he says.
Unsure of what to do with his degree, Pivnick did what any reasonable young man in his 20s would do: he set out for a fivemonth trip across Asia. While he was there he met some people who were teaching English in Japan.
After returning to Forest Hill, Pivnick tried out a few jobs, but eventually decided to move to Japan and became a teacher.
“I was 30 years old. I could’ve had a family, done real estate.…It was a tough decision,” he says.
Throughout his 30s, Pivnick explored the global community, teaching and learning to speak several languages. “Just to be that minority is interesting … an eyeopening experience,” says Pivnick.
After teaching in China in 2001, Pivnick decided to return to Toronto, where he taught at Bayview’s Crestwood School before becoming an ESL teacher at Seneca College.
“Now I no longer have to travel; they come here,” says Pivnick.
Back at home, Pivnick also reconnected with his old buddy James Pasternak, a school trustee for the Jane and Finch area. The trustee encouraged Pivnick to help set up extracurricular music, arts, tutoring and sports programs in schools such as Oakdale Park Middle School and Beverley Heights Middle School.
Pivnick also volunteers outside of the school system. Last month, he took a trip to Africa where he spent three weeks volunteering at a Kenyan orphanage.
“The kids were so appreciative of everything. It inspires me now to think about it,” says Pivnick.
The experience reaffirmed for him how easy it can be to volunteer, an opportunity he advises everyone to take.
In regards to the Africentric school, Pivnick says the scholarship donation was just a gesture he wanted to make.
“If someone chooses to go there and it triggers an interest to learn and read, then that is one small step,” he says. “It was a controversial school.…I wanted to celebrate success.”