Words: Amy Bell
Picture: Whitney Patton
For most of her life, Margaret (Peg) Delegato has been on a quest to end poverty and rid the world of hatred. It’s certainly a lofty goal — but if anyone can come close to pulling it off, it’s a dedicated philanthropist like Peg.
Born and raised in Detroit, Peg says Motown was a vibrant and exciting city during her childhood. “I grew up in what for me was the best of times, but for some, it was the worst of times,” she recalls.
Peg graduated from high school in 1958, full of optimism and idealism. “I knew great things were awaiting me,” she says. “After all, I had a dad who told me if I worked hard, I could become the president of the United States. Oh, he was so ahead of his time!” she laughs.
After high school, Peg considered a career in nursing. “Little did I know at the time that more seeds were being planted for future ripening and harvesting,” she says. A couple of years later, Peg changed career plans and ended her marriage. Now a single mother, she took on a job at a credit union that offered her the flexibility to raise her child.
“It was at this job that my supervisor pushed me towards furthering my education,” she recalls. In 1968, Peg began her studies at the University of Detroit. Soon after, she quickly climbed the ladder at the credit union to a manager position.
“In my credit union employment, I learned that many besides myself lived paycheck to paycheck, and many suffered as the working poor,” she recalls. “It gave me a crash course in compassion.”
At the time, racial tensions were high in Detroit, and there were frequent riots. “The city was burning, and as I learned more about the plight of the people, I burned with the passion of wanting to help them,” Peg reflects. This led her to join an organization called Focus Hope. “It was here that community leadership became paramount in my life—and it was here that the seeds of ending hatred and poverty became my being.”
During her time with Focus Hope, Peg developed fundraising and organization skills, but most importantly, she learned compassion. This was when she vowed to dedicate her life to ending poverty and bigotry. To this day, she has not broken that promise.
In 1989, Peg moved to Bradenton, first as a snowbird and eventually a full-time Floridian. “I tried retirement for a while,” she recalls. “Very boring.” By 1995, she decided to go back to school and complete her college education.
Peg received her A.A. from Manatee Community College and then transferred to USF- Sarasota/Manatee. “In 2003, at the age of 63, I earned my B.A.,” she says. “I was so grateful and promised the good Lord that I would do what I could to help others fulfill their dream of an education,” she did.
Soon after, Peg started volunteering at Ballard Elementary School. She also taught a Sunday morning preschool for Hispanic children for five years.
As she continued her school volunteering, Peg was introduced to Reading Pals. “I could not participate in its first year but have every year since,” she says. She has participated in Reading Pals at a number of local elementary schools, including Daughtrey, Ballard, Rogers Garden, and Prine. “Oh, I enjoy it more than I can say,” she exclaims. “Ballard and Rogers Garden were also my camping ground for volunteering in other ways. I truly enjoy working with the kids.”
During her time in schools, Peg realized the importance of giving kids hope and someone to talk to. “This led to my involvement in another organization: Take Stock in Children, which is ending poverty one kid at a time,” she says. Peg has mentored four students through Take Stock and will begin with her fifth when school starts.
“Mentoring makes a difference,” she says. Peg recalls fondly what one of her Take Stock students said about their time together. “When someone asked how I had helped her, she said, ‘When I was falling, Miss Peggy grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.'”
Peg has also taken on a leadership role with Take Stock, starting off with the Leadership Council, which became the Community Council. “Diana Dill was at the helm, and her energy and leadership were contagious,” Peg says. “She grabbed my energy and directed it to the kids of Take Stock. She was then and still now, my friend. Together, we create positive change in the lives of kids.”
Of course, ending poverty has been Peg’s dream for a very long time. “In Manatee County, my energy in this regard was with Our Daily Bread,” she explains. “My stint there began when it operated out of Sacred Heart Parish and then to a building on 14th Street. I volunteered there for more years; then I can count.”
Over the years, Peg has also been heavily involved with the NAACP. “This organization is my vehicle for ending hatred,” she emphasizes. “It is my belief that there is one race: the human race. When I first became active, I was criticized by several white friends. My statement to them was: If you are a bigot, you cannot be my friend. A few returned later after soul searching and apologized. They stated their past feelings as being wrong. Maybe I made a difference.”
When she first became active with the NAACP, Peg chaired the Education Committee. “I believed and still do that education is the pathway out of poverty,” she says. “In setting committee goals, this belief was the impetus. It was with the NAACP that I learned the importance of early education.”
After a brief hiatus from the NAACP, Peg chaired the Freedom Fund Committee. During this time, she found that fundraising was something she truly enjoyed. “It gave me the microphone to espouse my beliefs in the sin of hatred,” she says.
The Spirit of Giving
These are just a few examples of Peg’s tireless volunteer work in Manatee County. She has worked with so many organizations during her time in Bradenton; she sometimes loses track.
“I want everyone, especially children, to be on a level playing field,” she says. “And if they need a hand up, I want to be there for them.”
When asked what inspires her passion for volunteer work, Peg says it comes from her spiritual side. “Jesus Christ would be the person I would like to have lunch with if I could have lunch with anyone ever,” she says. “If you read the gospels, he lifted people up. He cared about the less fortunate. He told us to love one another. He wasn’t popular with everyone, but he did what was right.”
Peg has also spent some time studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. “To paraphrase it: when basic needs are unmet, self-actualization doesn’t happen,” she explains. “We need to help others for them to reach the point of their self-actualization.”
Outside of her volunteer work, Peg enjoys reading, creating art, and sewing. For the last 15 years, she has been making dresses for women and children in Haiti. “I quit counting at 500,” she says. During one of her trips to Haiti, Peg visited an orphanage in Leogane and came across a little girl wearing a dress she had made. “I’ll never forget it,” she adds.
Family and friends are also very important to Peg. “My daughter is in a corner of my heart occupying my love and pride,” Peg gushes. “She is married to a wonderful man, and they live in California.”
Although they are not related by blood, there is another young man who is particularly special to Peg. “He is Haitian, and I met him when he was in the third grade and in need of tutoring,” she says. Peg continued to mentor him through his middle school years. Now, he is starting his senior year. “I have spent a lot of time with this kid, from when he was a cute little kid up to now as I see him mature to a fine young man. He has been a joy in my life.”
Peg says volunteering has been the basis for many friendships over the years. “They have become my extended family, and I love them,” she says.
“I have truly been blessed in life and hope that I have done some good along the way,” she reflects. There is no question that Peg Delegato has accomplished more good than she will ever know, impacting lives across Florida, Michigan, and beyond.