Twenty years ago, a group of Italian-American business leaders – Umberto Fedeli
, Dominic Visconsi, Sr
, Nacy Panzica
, John Quagliata, Joe and John Miceli
, and Sonny Orlando
-- wanted to find a way to preserve their Italian traditions while also helping the Cleveland community.
Their idea transformed into the Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation
“It started in 1995 with a few businessmen and the organization evolved from there,” explains NOIA executive director Angela Spitalieri. “It started as a group of men getting together to raise money and give it away.”
Today the non-profit organization, based out of the Murray Hill School in Little Italy, has 212 members who gather to network, socialize and raise money for causes they believe in. In its 20 years the foundation has given more than $1 million to causes that fit its mission. This includes donations to four Italian church parishes -- St. Rocco
, Holy Redeemer
, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
and Holy Rosary
Most recently, NOIA established a $200,000 scholarship for Padua High School
in Parma to attract Italian American students to the school who wouldn't otherwise pursue a Catholic education.
The scholarship provides qualified students with $5,000 a year, renewable annually. Awardees must maintain a 2.5 GPA, be enrolled in the Italian Language Program, participate in Padua’s Italian Heritage Club, and be active in volunteer activities.
NOIA partners with the Western Reserve Historical Society on many of their speakers and lecture series and on an archive project. The group also hosts Italian classes.
The organization doesn’t look for attention or a pat on the back for its fund-raising efforts. “It’s who we are,” says Spitalieri. “It’s important because it’s something that leaves a legacy and it’s part of our heritage.”
In recent years, NOIA has been a bit more open about what they do, and the group’s leaders try to engage its members more in the community. “We’re a lot more out there and we just do more,” says Spitalieri. “We’ve never forgotten where we came from.”
In November NOIA officially celebrated its 20-year anniversary in Cleveland with a gala at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Each year since 1999 at the annual gala, NOIA inducts local Italian-Americans who excel in education/community service, medicine, sports, business, religion and government into its Hall of Fame. The 2015 inductee was legendary music producer and Cleveland native Tommy LiPuma