Thanks to the generous support of the Italian and Italian American communities, the National Italian American Foundation’s Annual New York Gala gathered 700 guests at Cipriani 42nd Street®, the Italian Renaissance inspired venue located in the heart of Manhattan, on Thursday, April 20, 2023.
The annual NIAF New York Gala honored four outstanding Italian Americans including Angelo Vivolo, Beth T. Mazzeo, Silvio Petriello, and Tony Lo Bianco, by bestowing upon them the NIAF Special and Lifetime Achievement Awards for their contributions in philanthropy, business, real estate, and entertainment.
The elegant evening commenced with guests being welcomed at the red carpet entrance on 42nd Street. Upon entry, guests were met by waitstaff, who butler passed signature Cipriani Bellini cocktails. While networking throughout the towering space adorned with marble columns and sparkling chandeliers, guests had the opportunity to bid on silent-auction items including sports and film memorabilia, exclusive designer accessories, and one-of-a-kind travel experiences from three spectacular hotel stays in Italy donated by NIAF’s Title Sponsor, NERO Lifestyle.
Once seated for the dinner program, the master of ceremonies, NIAF Celebrity Ambassador, entertainer, and radio host Joe Piscopo opened up with “Who is proud to be Italian?” As the crowd cheered, Piscopo welcomed everyone and recognized the honorees and distinguished guests including the Republic of San Marino (Fabio Righi, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Technological Research; Ambassador Damiano Beleffi; Massimo Cenci, Secretary General of Ministry of Industry); Eugenio Giani, President of the Region of Tuscany; Congressman Tom Kean Jr., 7th District of New Jersey; Congressman Nick LaLota, 1st District of New York; Giulia Ghia, Councilor for Culture, Education & Youth Policies and Sport, City of Rome; Major General Fabrizio Parrulli, Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations; Brigadier General Salvatore Russo, Italian Guardia di Finanza; Rector Andrea Prencipe, Luiss Guido Carli University; Simone Crolla, Managing Director of American Chamber of Commerce of Italy (AmCham); Andrea Gumina, Co-Founder and President of the Transatlantic Investment Committee; Antonio LaSpina, Trade Commissioner of the Italian Trade Agency of New York; Joe Sciame, President of the Sons of Italy Foundation; and Robert Ferrito, President of OSDIA Commission of Social Justice.
To formally begin the dinner program, Piscopo invited the guests to stand, as he welcomed His Excellency Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, to the stage for the invocation.
Piscopo asked the crowd to remain standing, as he introduced Christopher Macchio, the New York native, classically trained tenor known globally for his command performances from the White House balcony to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Macchio sang the Italian and American National Anthems with exceptional power and beauty. When Macchio returned to the stage later in the evening, he received a standing ovation performing Torna Surriento, Chitarra Romana, The Prayer and Nessun Dorma.
NIAF Board Member & Executive Vice President, Gerard S. LaRocca and Gala Dinner Chairman expressed his gratitude to the New York gala committee, sponsors, and partners for their contributions.
Next up, NIAF Chairman Robert Carlucci, welcomed everyone and said, “The size of our audience is both a tribute to the popularity of our honorees and to the hard work of our dinner Chairman Gerard LaRocca and his fantastic committee. But this exceptional turnout is also a testament to the strength of our Italian heritage that binds all of us with a tremendous sense of pride and achievement.”
Fabrizio Di Michele, the Consul General of Italy in New York, took the stage and expressed what a pleasure and honor and duty it was to participate in the NIAF New York Gala. Di Michele recognized the significant role NIAF plays in promoting the Italian culture into the Italian American community.
Piscopo acknowledged Title Sponsors (Blastness, CBRE, and Nero Lifestyle) Presenting (Aliante Partner S.p.A., Deloitte & Touche, and The Francesco & Mary Giambelli Foundation) along with the numerous Platinum Sponsors for their support.
Cipriani’s dinner service was simply Italian with their classic cuisine and hospitality. The gala guests indulged in courses of baked tagliolini with ham, pinwheel braised boneless short ribs with Cipriani sauce, fresh seasonal ratatouille and potato Duchess paired with Cipriani’s Cancello della Luna Chardonnay and Cancello del Sol Cabernet Sauvignon.
Piscopo kicked-off the awards ceremony by acknowledging the four honorees, who embody the Italian American values and traditions. The evenings first honoree, Angelo Vivolo, President of the Columbus Heritage Coalition, received the National Italian American Foundation Special Achievement Award in Philanthropy. In his acceptance speech, Vivolo said, “NIAF is a great organization with its multi-level approach to helping our community by offering opportunities to Italian American students to celebrate their heritage and culture, mentorship to networking scholarships, and many other special educational programs.”
Beth T. Mazzeo, special advisor and the former Chief Administrative Officer of Bloomberg LP, received The National Italian American Foundation Special Achievement Award in Business. Mazzeo thanked her family, especially her father for attending the gala and expressed a special recognition for her alma mater Villanova.
Vice Chairman at CBRE, Silvio Petriello, received The National Italian American Foundation Special Achievement Award in Real Estate. Sharing his fond memories growing up in an Italian family and Italian being his first language up until first grade, Petriello echoed NIAF President, Robert Allegrini’s sentiments that Italian Americans combine the best characteristics of Italians and of Americans.
Following Silvio’s heartfelt speech, Piscopo, asked the crowd, “Do we have anyone from Queens in the house?” The evening’s final honoree actor, Tony Lo Bianco, received The National Italian American Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in Entertainment. Lo Bianco filmed “Somewhere in Queens,” an Italian American comedy directed by Ray Romano portraying Dominic ‘Pops’, the patriarch of the Russo Family. After the trailer played, Lo Bianco took to the stage enthusiastically and spoke about his heritage and reminded everyone of our ancestors’ sacrifices.
Closing the evening’s festivities, Piscopo gave another round of applause to the honorees, sponsors, and Macchio and to NIAF for all that it does for the community.
Before guests departed with their De Cecco gift bags, they indulged in Cipriani’s plated zabaglione cake with fresh strawberries and butler passed fruit tarts, cream horns, and dipped chocolate strawberries, and biscotti.
Because of all the support, NIAF continues to offer grants and scholarships to the younger generation of Italian Americans. NIAF plays an active role in providing grants to projects and events as well as providing financial support to college students. Some of the most noteworthy programs over the past year include the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery, the Fulbright Fondazione Falcone–NIAF Scholarship in Criminology, and the NIAF Congressional Fellowship Program.