Philanthropists Marissa and Tony Peña shares what they have with others. (Photo: UBC Library)

Vancouver, B.C.

Gift to UBC Library to Transform Lillooet Room

By Ted Alcuitas 

The former  owner of pioneer money-remittance company Manila Express has made a donation to the University of British Columbia’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

The Lillooet Room, part of the Chapman Learning Commons, has been re-named the Antonio and Marissa Peña Learning and Events Room to honour the couples’ gift.

The space is used for workshops by UBC faculty, staff and students. The Peñas’ gift will fund upgrades to the room and improved student support, making it a more effective space for learning. More than a study space, the room will host unique learning opportunities open to all students.

Here is UBC’s press release on the donation.

Marissa and Tony Peña have a strong history of support for UBC, having established an endowed entrance award for undergraduate students in 2014. The award is given to students involved in the Filipino community on the basis of both academic excellence and financial need.

“With many Filipino parents coming to Canada for work, their kids back home often struggle in their absence,” Marissa explains. “When families are eventually reunited in Canada it can be hard for students to integrate into a new culture while they are getting to know their parents again at the same time. They often suffer academically because of pressure to achieve and the stress of trying to fit in.”

Tony adds, “Students who have received our award have been in touch to say how helpful it is to have that financial support. Their stories really inspire us.”

After arriving in Canada from the Philippines in 1978, Tony and Marissa operated a successful money services and shipping business for many years, serving the Filipino community in Vancouver.

In 2005, Tony, together with about five other friends, established Societe Lifeline Society to support cancer research and raise awareness of non-related stem cell transplant. In 2014, with permission from the society’s Board of Directors, they renamed it the Pena Family Foundation and turned their focus to support for secondary and post-secondary students.

The Peñas’ charitable giving is inspired by their firsthand experience with English Language Learners in Vancouver high schools, notably John Oliver Secondary and Sir Charles Tupper Secondary. “We met with the Vancouver School Board multicultural liaison officer to find out where the needs were greatest,” Marissa says. “We got involved in the ACE-IT program that helps students with technical training, and then we found out about the Kababayan Academic Mentorship Program (KAMP) program.”

KAMP is a collaboration between the Filipino Students Association at UBC and the Vancouver School Board. It delivers tutoring and mentorship to newly-arrived Filipino high school students. Every summer, KAMP brings students to the beautiful Loon Lake Lodge and Retreat Centre in UBC’s Malcolm Knapp Research Forest to connect with nature in their adopted province of BC.

“We went to Loon Lake, and we were really impressed by the programs that these Filipino university student mentors had created for their mentees,” Tony says. “So we started giving to the Loon Lake Redevelopment Fund in the Faculty of Forestry.”

The Peñas have always supported education and leadership, having had university scholars since 1988. In 2013, Tony and Marissa established an endowment fund in Tony’s alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University, a Jesuit run university. 

They continue to support university students in the Philippines through the alumni association in B.C. and in Vancouver through the Peña Family Foundation Scholarship Program.

For Marissa and Tony their gift to the UBC Library is a natural extension of their relationship with UBC “We were really inspired by the way mentorship works at KAMP, and we wanted to support the development of more student leaders at UBC,” Marissa says. “The new upgrades to this room will make it more multifunctional and a better space for learning.”

She adds, “We also want to encourage people to give to causes they feel strongly about. There are so many ways to make a difference at UBC.”

Susan E. Parker, UBC’s University Librarian, shares the impact this gift will have within the Library: “We are grateful for the Peñas’ leadership in recognizing the Library as a place that values programming to help students succeed and is a welcoming space for everyone. This gift will enable us to expand programs and engaged learning opportunities in the heart of the Vancouver campus, in a beautiful heritage space.”

They also have two scholarships for Langara College.

Tony & Marissa Pena Annual Award recognizes students with demonstrated financial need, in 2nd, 3rd or 4th term. Applicants must submit a reference letter from a recognized body, such as a school/school board, social service agency, or community organization outlining the students’ contributions to their community. Preference will be given to those who have contributed to the Filipino community in BC or Canada. (Fall/Spring)

Tony & Marissa Pena Entrance Award is destined at new students who have shown academic excellence in their application and demonstrated financial need. Applicants must submit a reference letter from a recognized body, such as a school/school board, social service agency, or community organization outlining the students’ contributions to their community. Preference will be given to those who have contributed to the Filipino community in BC or Canada. (Fall)

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