Call it good karma, optimism or whatever you like, but the positive attitude Jay Dascenzo surrounds himself with affords him the opportunity to take advantage of some amazing — even uncanny — opportunities.
Take, for example, the time in 1984, when he decided to stop being a human services lobbyist, wanting instead to be involved with then-Gov. Richard F. Celeste’s administration. He got hired to help design a computer system to manage a grant program for the Ohio Department of Development.
“I didn’t know how to turn a computer on,” laughs the president of Dascenzo Perez Inc., an Arena District communications agency.
Even though a hiring freeze prohibited the department from bringing on a computer programmer to translate Dascenzo’s ideas into bytes, he still managed to develop a simple system for the Community Development Block Grant program that became a model used by other states as well.
Another time, Dascenzo used an eavesdropping tactic to get in closer ranks with Celeste. The head of the governor’s advance team was asking another person to work on a particular event — but he needed someone who owned a tuxedo.
“I piped up and said, ‘I have a tuxedo,'” Dascenzo says. Plus, he’d already done advance work — for an opponent of Celeste in a previous election, ironically.
He got the job and ended up as Celeste’s assistant for the chief of staff. In all, he spent six years working in state government, often coordinating Celeste’s out-of-state events. At the time, he called working for the governor “the greatest experience of my life.”
Dascenzo’s ability to make good of a situation or get things going his way served him well later as he spent 11 months in France — where he landed a job writing gossip about American celebrities for a magazine — and when he returned to the United States to do free-lance work and eventually start his own company.
In 1996, he took in a partner, Miguel Perez, and has grown Dascenzo Perez Inc. to eight employees in Columbus and Cincinnati with annual billings of $1.6 million. Dascenzo serves as speechwriter for Tami Longaberger, president and CEO of The Longaberger Co., and his company has produced events, videos, stage shows, speeches, print communications and fashion shows for many of The Limited Inc.’s businesses or spin-offs, including Victoria’s Secret Catalogue, Bath & Body Works and Lane Bryant. Other clients include such notables as Tupperware Corp., Wexner Heritage Village and the American Red Cross.
“Jay’s got a very good sense of humor. He has a contagious enthusiasm about him,” says Frankie Nowlin, Borden Foundation president and immediate past president of the Center for New Directions board. As a board member, Dascenzo helped the center revamp its annual fund-raising event.
“When you’re around him and he talks about ideas, you kind of think to yourself, ‘This is a great idea; I’d like to do that,'” Nowlin says. “He’s just so positive about things.”
His positive attitude is taking him to Alaska this summer, where he’ll participate in a 500-mile bicycle ride — the longest he’s ever attempted — from Fairbanks to Anchorage to raise money for AIDS vaccine research. He also serves on the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization.
Dascenzo’s optimism just last year grew even brighter — since he saw through a cloud he didn’t even realize was hanging over his head.
After a friend pointed out that he always seemed to have a lot of anxiety, he began to wonder if he should do something about it.
“It was fear of everything but fear of nothing,” Dascenzo says.
It marked his first experience visiting a therapist — and he learned how to deal with his anxiety disorder.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s converting negative thoughts into realistic thoughts,” he says, explaining how previously he would magnify a little mistake he made at an event where 95 percent of his work was “a home run.”
“I had to work hard to shift that mindset,” he says. “I tell a lot of people now, because I figure if I can get someone to think about doing something about it, that you don’t have to live that way, great.”
His anxious feelings had not been evident to everyone, perhaps because it hadn’t affected his work.
Peggy Calestro, vice president of development at Columbus State Community College, relates the story of the new look, new name and new attention Dascenzo brought to the college’s fund-raiser, Taste the Future.
“It was a nice event, but it wasn’t an event people (were) compelled to come to — and it has become that,” Calestro says, noting Taste the Future now reaches its maximum registration of 1,000 attendees. “The money we have raised has just more than quadrupled.
“His optimism and his vision rubbed off on all of us,” she says. “He rekindled the excitement that had been there when we started the event.”
He kept that excitement going after the fact, too.
“The day after the event, he sent me flowers and thanked me,” Calestro recalls. “I thought, ‘Now wait a minute. This should have gone totally the other way, because I just sort of stood there and watched him do his magic.’ It was such a generous thing to do — it totally denied any responsibility he had for the success of the event.
“He doesn’t focus the spotlight on himself, and he really could. … Instead of self promoting, he reflects it right back onto the people who benefit from his good work.”
How to reach: Jay Dascenzo, Dascenzo Perez Inc., 228-7738 or [email protected]
Joan Slattery Wall ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.