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The 47th NIAF Anniversary Gala in Review

On Saturday, October 29, 2022, the National Italian American Foundation celebrated its 47th Anniversary Gala the premiere event for our shared heritage and culture in our nation’s capital.

The evening honored several outstanding Italian and Italian American women and men by bestowing on them our highest honor the Leonardo da Vinci award. This year’s gala welcomed more than 800 guests who were transported to Tuscany, the 2022 Region of Honor, through entertainment and cuisine at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Guests were invited to the aperitivo hour sponsored by Campari. The room was filled with buzz as participants mingled with friends sipping Campari-branded cocktails while a DJ spun a playlist perfect to get the festivities started. When it was time to begin the awards dinner, members of the Bandierai degli Uffizi (drummers, trumpeters, and flag throwers from Florence) dressed in medieval outfits cued the transition. A spectacular flag-waving performance, typically performed before the Palio in Siena, beckoned everyone to their seats upon entering the ballroom. Guests stopped to take pictures and film the performance- a nod to the culture of Tuscany.

As the Gala Co-Hosts Maria Bartiromo and Joe Piscopo concluded their welcome remarks, pyrotechnics went off at the bottom of the stage leaving the crowd feeling wowed.  Following the invocation by Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi, Gala Chairman Joseph Del Raso began his speech by recognizing the symbolism of what Tuscany represents to the world. He added, “Tuscany, as you all know, is the birthplace of the Renaissance -that great rebirth of learning where Italy led the way in the arts and sciences.” The Foundation is also undergoing a Renaissance of sorts, the Gala Chairman noted, in terms of the support apparent with all the gala attendees and as an organization.

Next, NIAF President, Robert Allegrini, welcomed on stage the President of the Vatican’s famed pediatric hospital, the Ospedale Bambino Gesù, Mariella Enoc, as she presented a personal greeting from His Holiness Pope Francis. In the program book, a printed copy of the Pope’s greeting could be found, where His Holiness asks for support for the worthwhile cause of Bambino Gesù.

Continuing his remarks, Allegrini said, “NIAF is about celebrating and perpetuating all that is good in the Italian culture and there is indeed so much that is good.” As a result, the Foundation works to maintain close ties between the United States and Italy. For the entire month of October, NIAF has engaged with the Italian embassy for Italy’s biggest-ever nation-branding campaign to promote Made in Italy called BeIT. To mark the anniversary, Allegrini introduced a video to showcase why Italy is simply extraordinary.

“It’s a great night to be an Italian American,” proclaimed NIAF Chairman Robert E. Carlucci to the ballroom.

Italian Ambassador to the United States Mariangela Zappia, at the podium, introduced Italy’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, who delivered a personalized video message. “Grazie for cherishing your Italian heritage and carrying it with you, with such pride. I assure you that this government will do its utmost to make the relationship with the United States grow even stronger,” Meloni told the audience in her prerecorded remarks.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Tuscany, the President of the Region Eugenio Giani thanked NIAF’s decision to recognize Tuscany as the 2022 NIAF Region of Honor. He shared a brief history of past figures that unite Tuscany and the United States.

Throughout the speeches, a Tuscan-inspired dinner was served curated by Giada De Laurentiis one of the evening’s honorees. To begin, guests were served a beautiful antipasto featuring cured meats and cheeses hailing from the region of Tuscany. For the primo (first course), everyone enjoyed a tasty vegetable Bolognese with rigatoni. A Tuscan rib-eye with lemon potatoes and arugula was plated beautifully for the secondo (second course).

Right before introducing the evening’s lineup of remarkable honorees, Piscopo and Bartiromo thanked the Gala’s major sponsors. Gabelli Funds, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Carlucci and Family, Interstate Commercial Real Estate, Intesa San Paolo SpA, Leonardo US Corporation, LifeStar, Sinatra and Company, Three Chords Bourbon, The Francesco and Mary Giambelli Foundation, Campari Group, Ferrero, Fisher Capital Investments, Nero Lifestyle and Blastness USA, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Be IT and the Region of Tuscany.

The NIAF 47th Anniversary Gala Sponsors

The first of the evening’s distinguished honorees was Ornella Barra, Chief Operating Officer for the International Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance whom NIAF awarded The Leonardo da Vinci Award in International Business.  Speaking of her family values, Barra reflected on the core values she grew up with courage, sacrifice, and work ethic. “This recognition is a testament to the great contribution of so many people to the growth of an extraordinary group like Walgreens Boots Alliance.”

NIAF awarded Jason Castriota The Leonardo da Vinci Award in Creative Design and Innovation. Castriota told the audience at the age of five he was sketching Ferraris on the kitchen table and 20 years later he achieved his childhood dream. “Since Roman times, Italians have done it better. Great design is about creativity and ingenuity, and it brings joy. It arouses our senses; it makes us want to live a more meaningful life. It inspires a new generation to be more creative and innovative,” said Castriota.

The third honoree of the evening, Michael Pompeo, the 70th Secretary of State, received The Leonardo da Vinci Award in Global Public Service. Pompeo spoke about the trip he took a few years ago to visit Pacentro, the hometown of his ancestors, saying the memories he and his wife have of that trip were spectacular.

After Pompeo spoke, the NIAF Co-Chair of the Scholarships and Grants Youth Engagement Committee Joe Gulino introduced the three finalists of this year’s Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum. The film “Leaving the Factory” took home the grand prize. It was written and directed by Santa Monica College Film Production student Alessia Crucitelli and produced by Andrew James Levay and Catharine Dada. It is a story of the mistreatment of Italian immigrant women factory workers. Italian actress Roberta Sparta stars in the film and attended the gala.

The award ceremony continued, honoring Paolo Scaroni NIAF’s Leonardo da Vinci Award in Business Leadership. He reflected on his admiration for America being a leader in the business world.

Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey and Co-Chair of the Italian American Delegation was awarded NIAF’s Leonardo da Vince Award in National Public Service. “I am so proud of my heritage so proud of what we accomplished,” said Pascrell.

The education of Italian American youth is one of NIAF’s paramount goals and what better way to help raise funds than with a live auction? Fabulous live auction items including trips to Italy sparked bidding wars among the crowd.

Following the successful live auction fundraiser, Giada De Laurentiis was honored with NIAF’s Leonardo da Vinci Award in Culinary Arts and Entertainment. “I am so honored to inspire people to make Italian food that I hope all of you enjoyed tonight’s dinner,” she told the audience.

To conclude the awards dinner, the Gala Co-Hosts thanked everyone for attending. Piscopo reminded guests that right after the dinner in the next room the After Party will take place – a party like you’ve never seen.

In addition to the unforgettable gala dinner, the foundation held its first-ever NIAF Forum earlier in the day. The NIAF Forum was designed to promote Italy’s other contributions to society. It included a series of free seminars about various aspects of the Italy- U.S. relationship that took place prior to NIAF’s 47th Anniversary Gala. During one seminar, the “NIAF-Luiss Guido Carli” scholarship, funded by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), was launched to enable one U.S. student of Italian descent to attend Luiss University in Rome per academic year. General Jack Keane delivered a keynote speech during the ticketed luncheon. Participants of the Forum partook in the seminar led by The European House-Ambrosetti where NIAF’s position paper on the strategic importance of Italy and U.S. relations was discussed.

Overall, the 47th Anniversary Gala weekend was a great success thanks to everyone’s participation. NIAF is thankful to its sponsors, participants, guests, and volunteers who all helped make the weekend a fun and glamorous celebration of our Italian heritage. Not to mention all the proceeds benefit NIAF’s mission to preserve and promote the Italian heritage.