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Contact:   Elissa Ruffino (NIAF) 202/939-3106 or elissa@niaf.org


*President Bush Highlighted the Achievements of Italian Americans*
** Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini Addressed 2,400 at Gala **


(WASHINGTON, DC – October 22, 2001) Christopher Reeve and Dana Morosini Reeve; Domenico De Sole, president and CEO of Gucci Group NV; and Roger Enrico, vice chairman of PepsiCo, Inc. were honored this past Saturday evening, October 20 at the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) 26th Anniversary Gala Awards Dinner at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, DC.

The 2001 NIAF gala honorees were joined by Jim Bonzano, Arlington County Battalion fire chief; Charles Campisi, New York Police Department (NYPD) chief of internal affairs; Salvatore Cassano, New York Fire Department (FDNY) chief of operations and Kathleen Ganci, widow of FDNY Chief Peter J. Ganci, Jr. and her three children. The NIAF established its Twin Towers Relief Fund for the children of the rescue workers who perished in the September 11 attack on America in honor of Chief Ganci. The NIAF has already pledged $250,000 in educational funds for the children. During the gala dinner, NIAF Chairman Frank J. Guarini announced an additional $2.5 million donation from three banks in Italy.

In a video, President George W. Bush addressed the guests and highlighted the many accomplishments and resourcefulness of Italian immigrants and their families. He also spoke about the recent Columbus Day meeting at the White House with the Ganci family and Italian American leaders.

The Republic of Italy was represented by Gianfranco Fini, deputy prime minister and vice president of the Council of Ministers. "The Twin Towers have collapsed but America will not. God bless America, God bless Italy, God bless our friendship," said Fini in his remarks.

NIAF/Sergio Franchi Music Scholar James Valenti opened the gala by singing "God Bless America," the theme of this year's gala dinner. The 2,400 guests then joined him in singing "the Star Spangled Banner."

Lawrence Auriana, chairman and portfolio co-manager of Federated Kaufmann Fund and a NIAF board member, presented the Foundation's ‘One America' award to Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana for their outstanding work in raising funds for spinal cord injury research. "The credit goes to my wife of such great heritage, whose ancestors were Doges in Venice," said Christopher Reeve. "I have a lot of helpers, great doctors and it's not a coincidence that many of them are Italian Americans. Ours is the perfect Italian American marriage, I am the practical one but Dana's the caring side, the Italian style. She thinks about the other person and she's the one who founded our Quality of Life Program and established a resource center," Reeve added.

The NIAF 2001 honorees received the Foundation's Year 2001 Special Achievement Awards in the following categories: De Sole in fashion and industry and Enrico in business.

This year's dinner chairman was United States Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. CNBC Anchor Ron Insana was the master of ceremonies. Washington broadcaster Paul Anthony narrated the evening's videos.

United States Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the first Italian American woman to serve in the Senate; U.S. Representatives John LaFalce (NY); Connie Morella (MD), and Tom Davis (VA) and Pat Harrison, assistant Secretary of State, Louis Freeh, former FBI director and Charles Rossotti, Internal Revenue Service commissioner attended the NIAF gala along with Italy's Ambassador to the U.S. Hon. Ferdinando Salleo, and President of the region of Lazio, Francesco Storace.

Baseball legend Yogi Berra, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and actor Dennis Farina were among the Italian American celebrities attending the NIAF gala.

"This year the NIAF awarded an estimated one million dollars in scholarships and grants to hundreds of students. Also funded were 15 research projects and 28 university grants to Italian clubs," announced NIAF President Joseph R. Cerrell.

Recognizing the younger generation, the NIAF organized its fifth annual youth gala which attracted almost 200 young Americans of Italian descent from 20 states. Afterwards, the young adults enjoyed a post-gala dessert buffet, coffee and dancing.

The 2001 NIAF Awards Dinner capped the NIAF's two-day annual convention (October 19-20), the largest formal annual gathering of Italian Americans in the country. On Friday, October 19, Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, addressed leading Italian American executives during a private luncheon which was followed by a White House briefing with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. The NIAF gala weekend which featured Italy's region of Lazio included the traditional celebrity luncheon and auction, and a wine and oil tasting hosted by Bolla Wines and Colavita USA. Proceeds from the event will benefit the NIAF scholarship and education programs and "Gardens of Hope," an inner-city food program to benefit the homeless.

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