by Dona De Sanctis
The Sons of Italy Foundation (SIF) celebrated the 25th anniversary of its National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala May 23 in the nation’s capital. SIF is the philanthropic arm of the Sons of Italy, the nation’s oldest and largest organization for people of Italian heritage.
During the gala evening, held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., four leaders in business, government and entertainment received SIF awards: Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne; General Colin L. Powell, USA (ret.); actor Gary Sinise and Sky TV’s Robert Corrao.
Sergio Marchionne, chairman & CEO of Chrysler Group LLC and CEO of Fiat S.p.A., received the 2013 SIF Award for Excellence in Global Business. Mr. Marchionne is credited with turning around two major automobile companies: the Italian auto manufacturer, Fiat and the American manufacturer, Chrysler. In addition to his duties as head of the two auto companies, Mr. Marchionne serves on numerous boards of directors, including Fiat Industrial S.p.A. as chairman and the European Automobile Manufacturers Association as president. Mr. Marchionne is bilingual in Italian and English having been born in Italy and raised in Canada.
In accepting his award, he stressed the importance of moving from interdependence to integration, with special reference to the Fiat-Chrysler partnership.”In bringing together the best of our two groups, we’ve embraced both the Italian heritage of Fiat and the distinctly American identity of Chrysler. In many respects it is an idea that is very familiar to the Sons of Italy, which takes pride in an Italian American culture that draws strength from both traditions,” Mr. Marchionne said.
General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) received the 2013 SIF Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service for his career in the military and diplomatic fields as the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and 65th U.S. secretary of state. He is also the founding chairman of America’s Promise Alliance, a non-profit that aims to make children and youth a national priority by focusing on lowering the high school dropout rate. Under Gen. Powell’s leadership, the organization has become the nation’s largest multi-sector alliance that focuses on the well-being of young Americans.
The SIF Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service is presented annually to a person who is not of Italian heritage. The award and the recipient reflect the significance of working together to build a better global community. Past recipients include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden; and U.S. Senator Jack Reed.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Gen. Powell referred to the commonality of the immigrant experience, regardless of the origins, and proudly remarked upon receiving his SIF award, “I always say that I’m an honorary Italian, but tonight I can finally say that I’m more.”
Actor and activist Gary Sinise received the 2013 SIF Award for Courage & Patriotism. As founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation, Mr. Sinise works to assist the men and women who defend our country. His foundation partners with a range of organizations that support U.S. service personnel and veterans, including the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which builds customized smart homes for severely wounded veterans. A skilled musician and entertainer, Mr. Sinise has also performed for U.S. troops around the globe with his “Lieutenant Dan Band.” Along with NELA Gala emcee Joe Mantegna, Mr. Sinise hosts public television’s annual National Memorial Day Concert.
Accepting his award after a moving introduction by Joe Mantegna, Mr. Sinise spoke about what inspires his work. “If by highlighting what I do shines a light on these brave men and women, that’s one way I feel like I can serve.”
Robert F. Corrao is CEO and chairman of the Ski TV Network, a national high definition television network broadcasting via direct satellite and DSL technology to LCD screens at premier ski resorts across the United States, delivering over 60 million impressions through year round TV programming. He received the SIF’s highest honor, its National Education & Leadership Award for 2013. Accepting the award, Mr. Corrao proudly spoke of his Italian roots, the importance of education and his long history with the SIF. “All this Italian blood in my heart right now is boiling over.”
In the past, the SIF has honored President Bill Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; AIDS researchers Anthony Fauci and Robert Gallo; the late Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro; and entertainers Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Regis Philbin, and Annette Funicello, among others.
Also present at this year’s gala were nine talented young scholars of Italian descent, chosen from a highly selective national competition, who accepted substantial awards ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 that will enable them to attend such leading educational institutions as the universities of Yale, Princeton, Brown and the London School of Economics.
For the first time, the NELA also hosted several past SIF scholarship recipients, who went on to win awards and excel in their chosen fields. Among them were university professors, business owners, medical researchers, financial investment managers, and teachers of special education and underprivileged children.
About 1,000 guests come to the annual NELA black tie gala, including U.S, presidents; members of the Cabinet and the Congress; and foreign diplomats as well as U.S. military personnel, active, veteran and wounded warriors. The SIF has long collaborated with and supported the Wounded Warrior Project. This year’s special guests included:
• General Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. Army Chief of Staff
• General Peter pace, USMC (ret), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
• Claudio Bisogniero, Italy’s ambassador to the U.S.
• Jack Reed, U.S. senator representing Rhode Island
• Doug Flutie, former NFL quarterback
• Bob Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television
• Mack McClarty, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton
• Franco Nuschese of the premier Italian restaurant in Washington, Café Milano
As the philanthropic arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) the SIF has contributed to date $125 million to medical research, disaster relief, scholarships, and cultural preservation, along with other special projects. NELA Gala proceeds help fund these philanthropic programs.
Dona De Sanctis is editor-in-chief of Italian America magazine, produced at the Sons of Italy’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Contact her at email@example.com.