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Once again, the National Italian American Foundation returned to the elegant and historic Cipriani 42nd Street for its annual New York Gala on April 9, where guests mingled between sweeping archways and grand golden curtains in the heart of Manhattan.
Italian and Italian Americans from New York and around the world filled the room in the sold-out event making it a lively, high-energy, annual institution it has evolved into over the past few years. During the cocktail reception, guests, VIPs and honorees conversed, enjoying Cipriani’s famous Bellini cocktails while bidding on NIAF’s silent-auction collection of sports and film memorabilia, exclusive designer accessories, and one-of-a-kind travel experiences.
The evening was a family affair – all three honorees brought their immediate and extended families with them to the red carpet and spoke poignantly on the importance la famiglia has played in their success. This year’s master of ceremonies, radio talk show host, former Saturday Night Live Cast Member, and NIAF Celebrity Ambassador Joe Piscopo, welcomed the guests and introduced Monsignor Jamie J. Gigantiello of Mary Queen of Heaven Church in Brooklyn, who reminded everyone that the evening was a celebration of shared heritage: “We come together tonight to celebrate as one, big Italian family.”
The gifted Italian American 10-year-old singer Romina Perri kicked off the evening with beautiful and moving renditions of the national anthems of the United States and Italy. The audience was filled with admiration and awe for the young performer who so eloquently and confidently sang national anthems of the two countries she loves most.
New York Gala Dinner Chairman Gerard S. LaRocca, a member of NIAF’s Board of Directors, and chief administrative officer, Americas at Barclays Capital, thanked the Foundation’s New York Committee and the evening’s sponsors for making the NIAF New York Gala into the vibrant institution it is today. He also made the much-anticipated announcement that the 2019 Region of Honor is Molise, which has “a rich history of art and age-old tradition.”
During the exquisite, three-course meal, Piscopo introduced the evening’s first honoree, Marylou Delfino Berk, Senior Vice President at the Lefrak Commercial Real Estate Company, who received The National Italian American Foundation Special Achievement Award in Real Estate. Berk was thoughtful enough to leave at every seat a quote about determination from Daisaku Ikeda, “…The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success…”
Retired Judge Frank M. Ciuffani, received The National Italian American Foundation Special Award in Public Service for his service on the New Jersey Superior Court and his cumulative 40 years on the bench and in private practice. During his acceptance speech, Judge Ciuffani credited his success to the Italian American community: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of other Italian Americans.”
Lorenzo Zurino, Founder and CEO of The One Company, received The National Italian American Foundation Special Achievement Award for Young Entrepreneur for his considerable accomplishments in the promotion of Italian businesses abroad. The 34-year-old entrepreneur from Sorrento, Italy, spoke about moving to the United States on his own when he was 23 from Italy and creating the American Dream for himself, relating to so many in the audience whose ancestors did the same.
The evening concluded with a selection of decadent desserts, and a message from NIAF’s Co-Chairs Gabriel A. Battista and Patricia de Stacy Harrison, who thanked the crowd for its continued support of the National Italian American Foundation and the important work the organization does in preserving Italian American heritage and supporting the future of our community through grants and scholarships.
- Natalie Wulderk