Alumnus continues legacy of giving back to special needs community

November 29, 2017

Rick MontalbanoLisle, Illinois ~ Throughout all of the challenges Rick Montalbano, C93, Spanish, has faced in his personal life, his commitment to serving the special needs community has never wavered.

That’s because helping those with disabilities is a family tradition. Passed down from his father, Richard Sr., it continued to flourish while Montalbano was a student at Benedictine and later as he juggled the responsibilities of fatherhood and as executive vice president of a third generation family business.

For the past seven years, he and his family have run the Naperville-based nonprofit, Touch My Heart, which raises money to provide free outings, events and celebrations for people with special needs and their families.

“We are really about serving the adult special needs community,” Montalbano said. “There are tons of organizations and programs out there serving special needs youth, but when it comes to the adult with special needs, there isn’t a whole lot out there for them.

“These are adults who either were disowned by their families and became wards of the state or have family members who visit only a few times a year,” he added.

Montalbano came to Benedictine on the recommendation of his father, a St. Procopius alumnus and former president of the high-end, handmade furniture company, Montalbano Majestic Furniture.

While at times taking a full 21 credit hours a semester, Montalbano continued working as sales manager for the family business, overseeing a national sales team.

“My brother and I got involved early on in the family business, and I wanted to stay local because there were a lot of changes going on at the company and I wanted to be part of that,” he said.

Montalbano enrolled initially as an International Business major, but then switched to Spanish after having difficulties in a heavily weighted, 5 credit-hour math course.

“The professor did everything in the world to try and help me to be successful in that class, but that was not how my brain worked,” Montalbano said. “I certainly did not want to be on a five-year plan, so I moved to Spanish. For me, language was something I had a good skill set for because I was able to test it out. I loved speaking it because we were doing a lot of business in Mexico and Italy.”

Outside of class and work, Montalbano was a member of the Student Judiciary Committee, president of the Spanish and Italian student clubs and played the drums in a jazz sextet.

“I had a great time and got really involved with the teachers and some of the great jazz legends who came through like Bradley Williams and Jack Mouse,” he said.

Montalbano also began running the local chapter of the International Order of Alhambra, the same organization he volunteered for with his father to provide help to the disabled. His passion for serving this population would eventually lead him and his wife, Wendy, to found Touch My Heart in 2010.

After graduating from Benedictine, he spent the next several years growing the family business, overseeing a transition from wholesale to retail and the opening of a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to handle imports and exports.

“We met some extremely high-profile people, movie stars, sports stars—very wealthy people looking for the products we sold,” Montalbano said. “I sold furniture all over the world for billionaires, consulates and royalty from other countries. We also sold furniture to people who had saved their whole life to buy the type of furniture we manufactured.”

Today, Montalbano is the director of operations for Apex Wood Floors in Lombard.

Throughout all the twists and turns of his career, Montalbano and his family continued to give back, leading the development of a scouting program run through the local Three Fires Council for those with special needs. The program has since been adopted by the national Boy Scouts of America.

This past June, Touch My Heart held its annual golf fundraiser at Tamarack Golf Club and this December will host angel tree sponsorships to provide gifts for those with special needs at Christmas.

These activities support three events during the year for special needs families and the nonprofit’s Touch My Home program, which collects and distributes food and other household items.

“We often say you get a glimpse of heaven when you look into the eyes of the community we serve,” Montalbano said. “Thankfully, we have never had a lack of volunteers for anything we need when the day comes. Money is the only thing that holds us back from doing more.”

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Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, admissions@ben.edu or visit ben.edu.

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