Most college graduates begin their professional careers at entry-level positions. But Justin Calitro is a bit different: his first professional career opportunity finds him as the CEO of the nonprofit Danbury War Memorial.
And how did he score such a job?
“I kind of threw my name in there,” recalled the 23-year-old Calitro when he learned that the position was available. “I was thinking, ‘Why not?’ I was looking for a job for a year after college. I went through three different interviews.”
Calitro, who is the son of city Planning Director Sharon Calitro, graduated from Sacred Heart University last year with a double major in sports management and finance and worked in the school’s athletics facilities program while he was a student. He is now running a $500,000 organization with a 14-person part-time workforce that serves a dual purpose as a fitness and community center and as a memorial that honors local veterans who served in 20th and 21st century wars.
While Calitro stressed that his education gave him the skill set needed to handle his daily duties, much of his work since taking on the CEO role in June has been on-the-job learning. For example, Calitro made efforts to reach out to veterans by setting aside convenient parking spaces for those who earned the Purple Heart while in military service. He also created a discounted membership for veterans as well as for first responders and the seniors who use the recreational facilities.
“That is something I put into place when I first got here,” he said. “There was one price, $200 for the full-year membership, and now the discounted price is $150.”
He also instituted a series of new guidelines to control what he diplomatically dubbed “a lot of bad habits” by some people who make use of the facilities, and updated the contract procedures for individuals and organizations that rent rooms and the basketball court at the center.
The Danbury War Memorial hosts a number of special classes ranging from driver’s education to pet training to yoga and dance. It also serves as a location for students seeking activities to keep them off the street between the end of the school day and their parents’ arrival home from work. Next month, the center kicks off its annual men’s winter league basketball season, with 38 teams in competition.
“In the operations field, no day is the same,” he said. “And that’s the cool thing about this job.”
However, the Danbury War Memorial was built in 1951 and it has been showing its age. Calitro pointed to a renovation in the fitness center prior to his arrival, and he is eager to bring more updates. “We have windows that we’d like to open up and get some light,” he said, pointing to a series of opaque windows crowning the basketball court that serve no illuminative purpose.
The nonprofit receives financing from a mix of membership fees, municipal funds and grants. Calitro said that he is in the process of “closing some deals I can’t reveal yet. In 2019, there will be a lot of things happening that will be very positive for the War Memorial.”
For the War Memorial’s members, having a CEO who is significantly younger than the typical chief executive is a fact of life. “The first week or so here, I started using the facility downstairs after work and at first, people didn’t know I was the man in charge,” Calitro said. “At first, they were like, ‘Who’s this kid? He’s running the place?’ Now, everybody knows it.”