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Blind Olympic Athlete and Motivational Speaker Rich Ruffalo To be Honored at NIAF Youth Gala in Washington, DC


Contact:   Elissa Ruffino (NIAF) 202/939-3106 or

(WASHINGTON, DC – October 4, 2004) Rich Ruffalo will be the Year 2004 honoree at the National Italian American Foundation’s (NIAF) eighth annual youth gala, held Saturday evening, October 16 at the Hilton Washington & Towers in Washington, DC. The event, held in conjunction with the Foundation’s 29th Anniversary Awards Gala, begins with a reception at 6 p.m. followed by dinner and dancing.

The NIAF Italian American Youth Achievement Award will be presented to Ruffalo for his achievements in public speaking, education, and athletics.

At age 32, Ruffalo lost his eyesight but never lost his “vision.” At the Walt Disney Company / McDonald’s American Teacher Awards, Ruffalo was named both the Outstanding Coach of the Year and the Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 1995. When he is not at a speaking engagement, Ruffalo can be found in his classroom teaching biology or coaching discus, shot put, javelin, or power lifting. In 1994 he was selected as one of five educators from the United States to be inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. A movie on his life, to be aired on the Wonderful World of Disney, is currently being developed.

The NIAF Youth Gala will feature celebrity appearances and a simultaneous video transmission of the NIAF 29th Anniversary Gala from the International Ballroom of the hotel. The weekend also includes programs and conferences for young people (ages 35 and under) on Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16.

The NIAF Youth Weekend begins Friday, October 15 with the conference “Children of the Greats,” which includes candid conversations with some of the most famous Italian Americans. Immediately following the conference, the NIAF Teacher of the Year Award will be presented at a luncheon featuring Truffles of Italy. At 2:30 p.m. conference attendees can improve their Italian language “vocabolario” the fun and effective way with linguist Tom Means.

Saturday morning, October 16, NIAF will host a youth networking breakfast, at which Ruffalo will be the guest speaker, and a meeting of Italian Club presidents from campuses across the country. All conferences are free and open to the public.

At the Foundation’s 29th Anniversary Awards Gala, singer Tim McGraw will receive a NIAF Special Achievement Award in Music. He will be accompanied by his wife, Faith Hill. Celebrities joining the honorees include singer Jo Dee Messina, actor Tony Danza, and comedian Fred Travalena.

Youth Gala dinner tickets are $100 per person and includes tickets to Friday night’s entertainment, “Salute to the Martini,” conferences and the Saturday night black tie (optional) gala. For more information, contact: Brock Olivo, at 202/939-3107 or e-mail:

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC and dedicated to preserving the heritage of Italian Americans. Visit