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In praise of volunteers

“Money makes the world go ’round,” or so they say. But in the world I live in, volunteerism is every bit as precious as cold, hard cash.

At Fra Noi, we have Dan Serafini, a retired financial systems programmer who emailed me out of the blue one day with an offer of help. He came along just as Mary DeSanto was stepping down as our longtime mailing manager, and Dan now assembles our monthly renewal notices, with lunch as his only material reward.

The Italian American Veterans Museum is run by an all-volunteer board that’s rich in both talent and commitment. With full lives of their own, they nevertheless turn out in force for every meeting and presentation, rise to the occasion when asked to lend a hand, and give generously to the museum’s annual appeal.

Casa Italia’s all-volunteer board and dedicated staff benefit beyond measure from the time and talents donated by Frank Clavelli, Deb Yaccino, Grace Balice and Theresa Girardi.

At the Italian Cultural Center, librarian Dominic Candeloro is ably assisted each Wednesday by an extended family of helpers that includes Lucio Bosco, Anna Weiss, Jason Coleman, Lee Colsant, Jeanette Risatti Viehman, Ross Di Marco, Frank Cesario, Vincenzo Di Vito, Mena Di Vito, Donna Campise-Taglia, Gian Carlo Cheloni, Raffaele Di Zenzo, Francesco and Maria Marzullo, and the recently departed Domenico D’Alessandro.

And the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans is a vital engine that runs entirely on volunteer power. Led by the indefatigable Jo Ann Serpico, the legendary “Ladies of the JCCIA” (Lilia Juarez, Arlene Elia, Phyllis Schoene, Christine Caliendo and Jackie Mazza) keep the office humming while setting the stage for a host of events large and small.

As major productions like the Columbus Day Parade or Casa Italia’s Christmas Village loom, the volunteer ranks swell exponentially. Their numbers are legion, with names too numerous to mention here.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All told, more than 70 Italian-American organizations enrich cultural life of the Chicago area with their pro bono passion.

Each year, scores of volunteers throw their shoulders into major celebrations like the feasts of San Francesco di Paola, Maria SS. Lauretana and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, as well as the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii’s Festa di Tutti I Santi, tackling tasks as diverse as setting up tables and chairs, decorating altars, parking cars and feeding the masses.

There are few sights more moving than second- and third-generation Italian Americans carrying the same saints in solemn procession that their ancestors bore aloft for centuries back in Italy.

There’s no question that Italian America would be a poorer place without its volunteers. But the money they save is dwarfed by the skill, energy and devotion they bring to the cause. There’s no putting a price tag on that.

As you may know, April 20 is Volunteer Recognition Day, but you don’t have to wait until the appointed date to honor these unsung heroes.

The next time your organization gathers to plan an event or share a meal, take the time to give each other a pat on the back for a job well done, and to sing the praises of those who go above and beyond the call of duty.

And be sure to save the biggest hug for your president. They endure more than their fair share of criticism in the course of the year, and when you’re working long hours without compensation, appreciation is worth its weight in gold.

For me, at least, volunteerism is its own reward. Nothing beats the gratification that comes from rolling up my sleeves and playing a part in the preservation of my community and culture.

If you haven’t already joined our ranks, you should give it a try. A world of opportunities await in the pages of Fra Noi. Just pick an organization, dial their number and ask, “How can I help?”

The above appears in the April 2019 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Paul Basile

Paul Basile has been the editor of Fra Noi for a quarter of a century. Over that period, he and his dedicated family of staff members and correspondents have transformed a quaint little community newspaper into a gorgeous glossy magazine that is read and admired across the nation. They also maintain a cluster of national and local websites and are helping other major metropolitan areas launch their own versions of Fra Noi.