39th Anniversary Gala 2014 Review

The National Italian American Foundation’s 39th Anniversary Awards Gala celebrated the rich heritage and culture of Italian Americans and Italians as well as poignant memories of ancestors who immigrated to America to create today’s community. NIAF Board member and Emmy Award-winning Fox News Anchor and Global Markets Editor Maria Bartiromo, and NIAF Celebrity Ambassador, actor, entertainer and radio host Joe Piscopo, co-hosted the NIAF Gala at the Washington Hilton on October 25, 2014. They welcomed guests from across the United States and Italy to the annual black-tie dinner.

From the podium, Piscopo reinforced the Foundation’s mission to serve the community and further strengthen the ties between Italy and the United States, while adding “I am so proud to be an Italian American!” Bartiromo spoke about the hard work and love of family. “These two traits, we celebrate tonight,” she added. Together, they entertained the enthusiastic guests with lots of good humor before they kicked off the awards ceremony.

This year’s honorees from Italy further strengthened the bridge between our two countries. Before 1,200 guests, Pasqualino Monti (view video), president of the Port Authority of Rome Civitavecchia, received The Special Achievement Award in International Business. He described NIAF as an important partner with Italy.  He was joined by Fabrizio Francesco Vinaccia (view video), institutional affairs senior vice president of MBDA Italia S.p.A., who received the NIAF Italy-America Friendship Award. One of NIAF’s longtime supporters and a native son of Sicily, Pino Cicala (view video), founder and editor of AMICO and Antenna Italia Radio-TV, immigrated to the United States in I955 and continues to spread the Italian culture throughout the nation’s capital. Cicala received the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Community Leadership. “I am extraordinarily humbled,” said Cicala, dedicating the award to his parents. “I started out trying to explain America to immigrants. Now I am trying to explain Italy to the children.”

Photos by Kenneth Rictor Photography. To view more Gala photos, and to order them from NIAF’s official Gala photographer, please visit  www.KennethRictor.com.

NIAF awarded the Foundation’s Special Achievement Award in Entertainment to John Turturro (view video), noted actor, writer and director. “I’ve always believed that to know who you are you have to understand where you came from,” Turturro said during his acceptance speech. “My parents’ and grandparents’ work ethic and approach to life was instilled in me at a very early age. It was through Italian cinema that I experienced the world that my family came from.

“To become an American is a long and circuitous journey, but at the same time we should not forget those who got us here.”

Honorees joining Turturro included Daniel D’Aniello (view video), co-founder and chairman of The Carlyle Group, a global-asset management firm specializing in private equity, who received a NIAF Special Achievement Award in Business. In his acceptance speech, D’Aniello explained how he knew the word “feminism” before it was invented, because his grandmother had a simple business plan for him: “Keep me close to the faith and to the family” D’ Aniello spoke about all the good luck he has experienced in his life, as well as his first business lesson at the market when his uncle pointed out a potato on the floor: “My uncle said, ‘Dan, do you see that nickel over there?’ I said, ‘What nickel? And he said, ‘See that potato? It’s worth a nickel.’ ”

Mentioning that his grandparents “believed in community and the Golden Rule,” David Cordani (view video), president and CEO of Cigna Corporation, a global health service company, added “We believe in giving back to our community, we are responsible for our colleagues.” NIAF awarded Cordani with the Foundation’s Special Achievement Award in Business and Health.

When Susan Molinari (view video), vice president of Public Policy and Government Relations at Google, came to the podium, she exclaimed, “Mom, Joe Piscopo is introducing me!” Molinari, who received the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Public Service, said that while her mother’s side of the family came from Naples, “It’s the Italian side from Calabria, where the public service side of my story begins—my dad is my role model and hero.” She added, “They didn’t come with many valuables but they came with many values.”

After the awards ceremony, NIAF Executive Vice President John F. Calvelli introduced the community partnership between NIAF and the groundbreaking documentary film series, “The Italian Americans.” The audience viewed clips from the four-hour series which will air nationally on PBS stations on February 17 and 24, 2015.

Dignitaries from Italy at the Gala included United States Ambassador to Italy John R. Phillips, Italy’s Ambassador to the United States Claudio Bisogniero, Italy’s Minister of Economic Development Federica Guidi and United States Consul General in Milan, Ambassador Philip T. Reeker.  “The bonds between our countries have been made stronger,” Ambassador Bisogniero said, “…by the great contributions made by so many Italian Americans.”

Italy’s Region of Lombardia President Roberto Maroni led the delegation from Lombardia, the NIAF 2015 Region of Honor.  He was joined by the region’s Councilwoman of Education Valentina Aprea.  Minister Guidi and President Maroni toasted our two countries and look forward to promoting the “Made in Italy” brand. They warmly invited all to Expo Milano 2015 in May. Businesses throughout Lombardia also showcased their products and services at NIAF Central during the NIAF Gala Weekend.  Additionally, the region’s dignitaries were hosted at a global economic forum on Friday, October 24. “Next year will be for Lombardia a memorable year!” said Maroni. “We will show the world what the real Italy is all about.”

From the United States special guests included actor Tony Lo Bianco, award-winning writer and producer John Maggio, and author Maria Laurino.

Guests rose to their feet when Catherine Altomare sang “Inno di Mameli,” Italy’s national anthem, and the U.S. national anthem. Reverend Ezio Marchetto, C.S., of the Holy Rosary Church gave the invocation. During the Gala dinner a selection of fine Italian wines selected with the generous assistance of Marco Polo Experience and Famiglie dell’Amarone d’Arte, complementing the dinner menu featuring Risotto Milanese and Veal Milanese with arugula.

During the NIAF Gala Weekend beginning Friday morning, October 24, NIAF hosted the NIAFRegione Lombardia Global Economic Forum. Dignitaries from Italy gave an overview of the 2015 World Expo in Milano and explored its theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”  Said

NIAF Chairman Joseph V. Del Raso, “In America, we always identify the expo as a World’s Fair, so those of you in the audience who remember the World’s Fair in New York will remember it was a very big event…Expo 2015 will make for  a better world and a better quality of Life.”

Added Lombardia President Roberto Maroni: “Milan will be the capital of Europe. Milan will be on the world stage.”

In the afternoon, NIAF opened its headquarters for an open house for guests to leave a legacy footprint by recording family memories with the Memoro Project. The open house was also an opportunity to meet the staff and learn about the exciting new programs as the Foundation unveils its new state-of-the-art learning center.

Friday evening, NIAF hosted “The Wildest Comes to Washington” Casino Night featuring live music by Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses. Casino tables, dancing, an open bar and food stations featured Italian hors d’oeuvres. NIAF Board member and auction chairman John P. Rosa was on hand to encourage guests to bid on one-of-a-kind items during the live and silent auctions. Guests exchanged their winnings for raffle tickets to win exciting prizes.

Popular weekend events included a premier screening of film clips from “The Italian Americans.” The screening was followed by a panel moderated by Calvelli and included NIAF Vice Chair Patricia de Stacy Harrison, NIAF President John M. Viola, the film’s writer and producer John Maggio, companion book author Maria Laurino, and John D. Calandra Institute of Queens College Dean Anthony Tamburri, discussing different aspects of the film project.

NIAF again hosted its signature wine tasting featuring exceptional wines from across Italy, including Veneto, all carefully selected by Marco Polo Experience and generously provided by Famiglie dell’Amarone d’Art, as well as La Marca. Wines served at the tasting included a Prosecco (La Marca), a Soave (Tedeschi), a Pinot Grigio (Tommasi), three Valpolicellas (Musella, Brigaldara and Zenato), and five Amarones (Allegrini, Tommasi, Tedeschi, Zenato and Musella). Panelists discussing the wines included: Patrizia Marin (Chairman of Marco Polo Experience), sommelier Christianne Sargeant (representing Monsieur Touton and Tommasi);  Goran Sevic (importer and founding member of Vino et Spiritus, representing Musella); and Roberta Perillo (U.S. brand Ambassador representing Tedeschi). And sommelier Brian Freedman (of On The Front Vines) both entertained and educated the room of eager tasters about the fine selection of Italian wines.

The weekend also featured a medical conference, “Bioinnovation: Towards New Treatment of Disease in Biopharma and Academia,” with a panel discussion about the current advances in medicine with Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D.,  president and founder of Sbarro Health Research Organization Inc., and a NIAF Board Member, and other notable speakers. Mario Ammirati, neurosurgeon and medical researcher at Ohio State University, received the 2014 Giovan Giacomo Giordano NIAF Award for Ethnics and Creativity in Medical Research.

Also part of the weekend, John M. Viola hosted “NIAF – Ieri, Oggi, Domani,” an engaging panel discussion with special guest George Guida from the Italian American Studies Association (IASA). The discussions focused on the current state of the Italian American community and its challenges as we move toward the Foundation’s 40th anniversary. Viola  and Guida were joined by the Foundation’s Chairman Joseph V. Del Raso, board leaders Calvelli, and Harrison; as well as Anthony Tamburri; and Professor of English and Italian American Studies at Queens College Fred Gardaphé.

NIAF also hosted a conference and breakfast in conjunction with IASA to discuss the topic: Does anti-defamation matter to the modern Italian American community? The panel included: Dominic Candeloro of the Italian Cultural Center at Casa Italia in Chicago; Denise Scannell, professor at New York City College of Technology; Maria Tamburri, president of the National Organization of Italian American Women; Mary Anne Trasciatti, assistant professor at Hofstra University; Fred Gardaphé; Anthony Tamburri; and George Guida, president of The Italian American Studies Association. “This idea of defamation,” said Gardaphé, “Sure, it’s good to have a defense, but it’s best to have an offense.”

NIAF Central, a gathering spot showcasing the best products and services of Italy and Italian Americans, included Mike’s Deli, the original Arthur Avenue Italian Deli, with David Greco setting up a complete Italian American market and serving complimentary old-fashioned sandwiches and Italian delicacies as a NIAF thank you lunch to its Gala guests, accompanied by rousing Italian music by Ciro Dilorenzo. All day long, Peroni Nastro Azzurro served samples of Italy’s finest beer; Mary Menniti of The Italian Garden Project talked planting figs and other plants, iGourmet cheese samples, Lavazza, Italy’s favorite coffee, served espresso at NIAF Central as well as coffee to guests on Friday and Saturday evening. Guests also relaxed and enjoyed many products displayed by companies such companies from the Region of Lombardia along the lower concourse level of the hotel.

To conclude the Gala program, NIAF Chairman Joseph V. Del Raso joined the Foundation’s President John M. Viola to thank the Board of Directors and staff for their dedication. Del Raso also saluted Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of the Foundation’s honoree in 1994, for his work tackling the recent health crisis facing those in Africa and in the United States.

Del Raso turned the podium over to the Foundation’s President who recognized this year’s Title sponsors, the Region of Lombardia and Maida Vale Design Inc., as well as all of its generous sponsors, including Colavita, DelGrosso Foods, Italian American groups across the country and student volunteers.

NIAF planned a surprise to close the evening with a special guest from the television show, “America’s Got Talent.”  Guests rose to their feet with a standing ovation when contestant Frank Dimitri, sang “I Got the World on a String.”

Immediately following the Gala, guests proceeded to attend the Foundation’s famed After Hours Party featuring performances by Piscopo, Ciro Di Lorenzo, and others.

Proceeds from NIAF’s 39th Anniversary Weekend will benefit the Foundation’s educational programs.  Mark your calendars for October 16-17, 2015, when the Foundation celebrates a milestone, NIAF’s 40th Anniversary Weekend, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.

View Video Coverage from our friends at Italics!

NIAF 2014 Gala Recap

Ieri, Oggi, Domani – Panel Discussion

Does Anti-Defamation Matter to the Modern Italian American Community?

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