Helping Us Thrive
Melissa Vassallo Idiens
Founder / Fairy Godmother
Melissa Vassallo Idiens was born with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a rare skin disease she shared with her father. Throughout her formative years and into early adulthood, Melissa chose to hide her disease as much as possible, focusing, instead, on helping others. When Melissa was 22, she survived a fatal car accident that left her catastrophically impaired and with a great deal of survivor’s guilt. Following more than a hundred surgeries and procedures over an exhausting decade-long physical, mental, and spiritual healing journey, Melissa began to channel her volunteerism into empowering members of the disabled community to not just survive, but to thrive. She returned to university, after having already earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English Literature, to begin a Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies
Melissa became a passionate and vocal advocate for those living with disabilities. Her work was rewarded in 2011, when she received the Town of Oakville’s Access Award and was named the Rick Hansen Medal Bearer for the 25th anniversary of his prestigious Man in Motion tour. In 2013, Melissa was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In 2014, Melissa and her husband, Daryl Idiens, were blessed with a beautiful baby girl they named Amelia (Mia). When it was discovered that Mia, too, had EB, Melissa decided it was time to accept and celebrate her own EB, so she could be a strong role model for her daughter. During Melissa’s search for support, she discovered DEBRA International, a charity which educates people all over the world about EB.
Melissa learned that dEBra UK was founded in 1978 by a woman named Phyllis, whose daughter Debra had EB. And that dEBra Canada was founded in 1998, by a woman named Fran, whose daughter Deanna had EB. Inspired by these brave mothers, in 2015—almost 40 years after DEBRA International was founded—Melissa leveraged her resources and founded her own charitable organization, to give back to the community while honouring her disease and her daughter. MiaThrives exists to connect families touched by EB, to empower Butterfly Children to find their purpose, and to give these children hope and the clear message that they are capable of accomplishing great things. Melissa has come to embrace her EB and enjoys living life to the fullest, alongside her sports-loving husband and their rough-and-tumble daughter. Melissa’s dream is for generations of Butterfly Children, including Mia, to feel inspired to live their best lives. She hopes they will spread their wings and soar!
Melissa is represented by the Red Admiral Butterfly, a dark blue (Melissa’s birthstone and signature colour) butterfly with red dots at the tip of each wing. Jane Goodall was nicknamed “Red Admiral” as a child, and Goodall is one of Melissa’s personal heroes. Blue butterflies symbolize meaningful purpose in life. Having EB and a daughter with EB has given Melissa purpose and a reason to celebrate the EB community, which led to founding MiaThrives. Red butterflies signify a powerful soul and spirit. With the physical impairments and health challenges that Melissa lives with, she continues to rely on her spirit to surmount hurdles. Red also symbolizes passion, which suits Melissa’s passion for bringing positivity to the EB community.
Jill Peters was managing a concierge company when she was called in to work with MiaThrives’ founder, Melissa, as a personal assistant. Impressed with Jill’s organizational skills, caring heart, degree in social development and minor in child development from the University of Waterloo, Melissa hired her to work part time as a nanny for her daughter, Mia. Jill quickly became indispensable to the Idiens family. When Mia started school, Jill continued helping with MiaThrives tasks, effectively creating a full-time position for herself as MiaThrives’ Managing Director. Jill spends a portion of her time with Mia, and the rest of her work day working as Melissa’s right-hand woman at MiaThrives.
As Melissa suffers from chronic pain and fatigue, the result of a car accident, Jill is responsible for Mia’s morning routine, including helping Daryl (Mia’s father and Melissa’s husband) with Mia’s wound care regime. Jill’s empathy towards Mia and Mia’s challenges with EB have allowed her to better serve the wider EB community, as she can relate to other caregivers of Butterfly Children.
Jill loves her nannyhood adventures with Mia, but when she’s not wearing that hat, she is the engine that keeps MiaThrives humming. Jill’s role with MiaThrives is to ensure that Melissa’s ideas are brought to fruition, with the help of the board of directors. Her seemingly unconnected life experiences working as an administrative assistant, concierge manager, personal assistant, and dedicated mother of five children, have all culminated to make Jill the most qualified individual to help MiaThrives thrive.
Jill loves spending time with her husband and their blended family of five young men, three dogs, and a cat. Jill also adores spending time with Mia. Through her work with MiaThrives, Jill’s greatest hope is to raise public awareness so people living with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) can feel confident to do anything they please.
Jill is represented by the Batesia Hypochlora Butterfly, a light pink and yellow butterfly. Not only is light pink Jill’s signature colour, but it’s also a colour that represents friendship, affection, and approachability—all attributes of Jill’s glowing personality and traits that help attract people to our organization. Yellow is also the way that Mia describes Jill’s hair colour! Spotting a yellow butterfly signifies transformation, fortune, and honest prosperity. This speaks to Jill’s role at MiaThrives, as she was our first team member, bringing us stability and exponential growth.
Emily Boros-Rausch was working on her thesis—designing fashionable medical bandages— when she was introduced to Melissa; a connection between her mom and board member Devon’s mom. Melissa was the first mother Emily had ever met who shared her rare disease of Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB).
Four years later, when Melissa was seeking a creative team member for MiaThrives, she knew Emily, with her natural talents and a degree in Material Art and Design from OCAD University, would be perfect for the job.
In her role as MiaThrives’ Creative Director, Emily manages the Kaleidoscope Kids YouTube channel, where she teaches Butterfly Children to make beautiful crafts. Emily is also MiaThrives’ Social Media Director. One of the gifts to come from Emily’s EB was that she became an excellent problem solver. On behalf of MiaThrives, Emily shares weekly EB Hacks vlogs, which illustrate creative ways to make living with EB more comfortable. Emily graciously contributes her personal experience and knowledge to help members of the EB community.
Emily is a passionate world traveller, but she’s also happy spending time at home with her life partner, Josh, and her house-trained rabbit, Valentine. Emily’s goal through her work with MiaThrives is to inspire young people living with EB to know that they are in charge of what defines them. The sky is the limit!
Emily is represented by the Anaea Nessus Butterfly, which has pink, blue, and dark purple wings. Emily’s favourite colour is purple, and all of these colours can be found in our visual branding. Pink is a colour symbolic of friendship and approachability, exactly what we need in the person responsible for our community outreach and social media. Seeing a blue butterfly symbolizes fulfilling one’s purpose in life. As an artist, Emily has found purpose by combining her creative abilities with her personal experience with EB, to lead to a tailor-made role for her at MiaThrives.
Board of Directors
We’ve chosen our board members with intention, knowing these are the individuals who can help take MiaThrives where it needs to be.
As Mia’s father and Melissa’s husband, Daryl Idiens knows how to love and support someone living with the rare skin disease Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB).
Daryl grew up in an athletic household and was raised to believe that your body is a tool to be used, not just a show piece for display. That’s one of the reasons why he and Melissa decided that, in raising Mia, they would not treat her as if she were made of glass; rather, she should enjoy being active, without worrying about marking up her skin.
Daryl’s relationship with Melissa and Mia brought him to the MiaThrives board of directors, but it is his past experiences that earned him his seat. From project management, to aviation, to real estate development (he has been featured on the television show Lakefront Luxury on the Cottage Life channel), Daryl’s diverse portfolio allows him to contribute to MiaThrives in a variety of ways—especially when it comes to understanding financials.
Aside from flying and real estate, Daryl loves spending time with Melissa and Mia, whether on the ski hill or relaxing at home with their two dogs. Through his work with MiaThrives, Daryl hopes that other parents of Butterfly Children will be inspired to encourage their kids to enjoy being kids.
Jim Peters first learned about Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) when his wife, Jill, became the Managing Director of MiaThrives. He soon became an active volunteer and organized the first annual MiaThrives golf tournament. Seeing the passion he had advocating for EB awareness, and the value in his involvement in charitable activities, Melissa invited Jim to sit on the MiaThrives board of directors. He gladly accepted.
To the MiaThrives Board, Jim brings great ideas, a caring heart, and a wealth of experience. He has been involved in many charitable organizations, including Special Olympics and the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, and has supported numerous causes, including MS Walks, Run for the Cure, and the Bell Let’s Talk campaign. Jim regularly participates in charitable golf and hockey tournaments and has always enjoyed volunteering his time to help others in his community.
After two decades of service with Barrie Police Services, Jim stepped into a role with the Marine Unit, where he leads his fellow officers in maintaining peace upon the waters of Lake Simcoe and other local waterways.
During his downtime, Jim loves golfing, boating, and spending time with his family—his beautiful wife and their five boys, three dogs, and one cat. Thanks to a little girl named Mia, who has stolen his heart, Jim has found a desire to advocate for all Butterfly Children. Through his work with MiaThrives, he wishes to increase awareness of EB, and he hopes to see you on the golf course at our next tournament!
Our founder’s best friend of twenty years, Devon Friedman, is intimately familiar with what it’s like to support a loved one living with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). Drawing on her extensive career in communication and public affairs, with a focus and interest in the not-for-profit sector; Devon brings her professional skill sets, along with her personal desire to help advocate for those with EB, to her seat on the MiaThrives Board.
A seasoned communications professional and natural relationship builder, Devon has a strong passion for the not-for-profit sector. She regularly volunteers her time and expertise to help charities build awareness and corporate partnerships and, ultimately, raise funds to expand their mission and reach.
Devon is proud to have worked for a number of leading Canadian charities, including Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Canada, Dove Self-Esteem Fund, Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR), WorldVision, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, and AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT).
Devon lives in Toronto with her husband and their busy, young family. Her goal, through her charitable work with MiaThrives, is to make those supporting MiaThrives feel like they are part of something meaningful—because they are. Ultimately, Devon wishes to create a community and a safe place for people with EB to feel better understood and included. Devon looks forward to working with individuals, associations and companies to find unique and impactful opportunities for them to support EB families across Canada. She is inspired by all Butterfly Children and families to raise awareness and funds for all those affected by EB.
Devon is represented by the Phoebis Trite Butterfly, which is yellow—Devon’s favourite colour. Yellow butterflies represent riches and wealth, so this is a colour that complements Devon’s role as MiaThrives’ Corporate Sponsorship guru. We hope that as our organization grows, Devon will be able to forge more special relationships with the corporations that donate to our cause. Devon has also worked closely with Ronald McDonald House charities, which we all know involves some golden arches.
When news broke about a devastating car accident involving several young university students, Anne-Marie Naccarato recognized Melissa Vassallo’s name as being one of those seriously injured; she and Melissa had attended the same high school. Anne-Marie followed Melissa’s miraculous healing journey, silently rooting for her to beat the odds, and the two eventually connected on Facebook.
Years later, while working as a Toronto lawyer, Anne-Marie was intrigued by a post Melissa made about Giving Tuesday and her newly formed organization, MiaThrives. Compelled to do something to help Melissa in her efforts, Anne-Marie offered to provide pro bono legal services to MiaThrives. Her offer was met with a resounding, “yes, please!”
With a wealth of experience representing global organizations and working with international teams, Anne-Marie immediately got to work, helping MiaThrives become incorporated as a non-profit organization and working to register MiaThrives as a charity. Melissa recognized that Anne-Marie’s legal expertise (she holds a BA in political science from McGill and a law degree from the University of Ottawa), and the sincere compassion that drew her to volunteer her time to MiaThrives, would make her an excellent addition to the organization’s board of directors. Anne-Marie not only graciously accepted, but she also brought with her the skills of her lawyer husband, Jit.
In Anne-Marie’s downtime, she loves to cook, travel, and be bossed around by her young son. Anne-Marie hopes to support MiaThrives’ legal needs pro-bono well into the future, so that funds raised for the organization can be put into programs that directly assist families thriving with EB.
Anne-Marie is represented by the Monarch Butterfly. The word “monarch” refers to a sovereign head-of-state, one who exercises the highest authority, much as a lawyer, like Anne-Marie, helps to ensure justice is upheld. Anne-Marie’s favourite colour is orange, like the wings of the Monarch. An orange butterfly sighting reminds us to stay focused on our plans. An orange butterfly also signifies a new dawn of transformation. When Anne-Marie joined MiaThrives, many of our plans finally became realized, opening up new financial possibilities for us.