Many who meet Phil Bonelli leave with an extra pep in their step.
“He has this way of connecting with people that you don’t find very often,” Matt Wojteczko, director of resource development at United Way of Hall County, said. “When he’s speaking, whether in English or Spanish, he makes you feel comfortable. He’s a super uplifting and encouraging guy.”
Bonelli, who was recently named the Jaycees Young Man of the Year, works as the senior vice president of Regions Commercial Banking in Gainesville. Katie Dubnik was named Jaycees Young Woman of the Year. When Bonelli’s not providing financial services and strategic advice to large businesses across Northeast Georgia, Bonelli is motivating local youth, creating pathways out of poverty for people or making decisions on the Elachee Board of Trustees.
Bonelli said his full-time job and much of his volunteer work sparked from seizing unexpected opportunities.
He started banking in December 2007, the month the Great Recession started. That led to him volunteering to give a talk about balancing a checkbook at a middle school, which helped him realize his passion for speaking to local youth through the Junior Achievement of Northeast Georgia and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier.
“I speak to a lot of young people, and they’re always nervous about what they’re supposed to do with their life,” Bonelli said. “I tell them, go into a route that you’re talented in and see what happens. That’s what happened to me. It wasn’t a grand plan, but I very much love what I get to do.”
Several times a year Bonelli has the opportunity to inspire both young minds and corporate groups. Bonelli said he tends to focus on two messages: perseverance and “recognizing your God-given talents.”
“Nothing in life is easy,” Bonelli said. “There’s always things in life that could blow everything up, we just have to keep going and fix it. There are things you’re excellent at that you might not even notice. I like to help people see that there’s some great things that can be in store for them, and for them to go grab it.”
Last year Bonelli served as United Way’s campaign chairman, which made him responsible for leading the organization’s fundraising.
Wojteczko said he worked with Bonelli on the campaign and saw his devotion to the community first-hand. When the social services organization reaches out to people at Gainesville’s poultry plants, he said Bonelli volunteers to translate between the Spanish and English speakers.
“He really believes what we’re doing here at United Way,” Wojteczko said. “As we deal with the issue of poverty in Hall County, he’s super passionate about that and helping us out.”
Before getting involved with United Way, Bonelli said he felt like he knew everyone in Gainesville. The organization proved otherwise.
“Through United Way, I realized I really don’t know everybody, just those from the same socioeconomic status who interact with (me),” Bonelli said. “With United Way, it’s not just homelessness, but helping people to be able to help themselves more.”
Some of Bonelli’s other passions include exploring nature and running ultra-marathons.
One year he ran 69 miles of the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail with his friends.
Bonelli said he wouldn’t be in his position now as a community leader if it wasn’t for his team of supporters. He said most of his inspiration comes from his boss, J.D. Mealor; his wife, Lindsay; mentor, Robert Mallon; and a group of close friends.
“There are so many people that have my back, who I just feel like we’re out in the fight together,” Bonelli said. “They make me feel good about what I have to contribute, and they’re contributing things too. We all build each other up.”
Bonelli has gotten a taste of what it would be like living in the Mediterranean, India and other countries, but he said nothing could compare to Gainesville.
He currently lives on a farm in Gainesville with his wife and four kids, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Our community is very unique,” Bonelli said. “We have problems just like everybody else, but there’s a lot of people who support each other and are working together to make it better, and I really love that.”