By Rob Ferragina
Recently, the Executive Board of the Amerigo Vespucci Society (AVS) of Long Branch, hosted the Executive Board of the Italian American Association of the Township of Ocean (IAATO) for a formal dinner at Johnny Piancone’s Italian Restaurant in the City of Long Branch.
The purpose of the dinner, according to AVS President Mr. Joseph Mossa was, “to reciprocate for the dinner that both executive boards had approximately a year ago at IAATO’s invitation. However, the purpose for reciprocating goes beyond formality and politeness. Both organizations share the common goal of retaining and appreciating Italian and Italian American culture but also the need to defend our history, heritage, and positive impact on world history and in particular American history.” AVS Vice President Frank DeVito added, “Day-to-day life is so busy for most of us, however it is so nice that two wonderful organizations that give back so much to their communities were able to spend quality time together, sharing ideas and breaking bread.” The two organizations are both located in Monmouth County, New Jersey and consistently support each other at fundraising events, dinners, Italian and Italian American causes, and more.
There are many local Italian Americans in Monmouth County that belong to both organizations. AVS board member Frank Crupi, Esq. stated, “It is imperative, as we approach October, the nationally dedicated Italian American Heritage month, that Italian Americans and Italian American organizations unite and stand together.” Both organizations plan on honoring their heritage in October in various ways. IAATO is holding a father-son breakfast event in early October for its members and has extended an invitation and welcomes those AVS members who have sons to also attend. They are also holding a Christopher Columbus ceremony along with an Italian Flag Raising Ceremony at the Ocean Township Town Hall.
The AVS will also recognize and celebrate October as Italian American Heritage month. They will, once again, march in the Long Branch Columbus Day Parade. They will also be conducting an Italian Flag Raising ceremony at City Hall in Long Branch. As was done in the past two years, the AVS will also be conducting an Italian Heritage Cultural event at the Long Branch Cultural and Arts building to showcase the work of local Italian American artists and photographers.
The initial IAATO-AVS dinner was held last year when IAATO hosted the AVS. It was the idea and concept of local businessman Mr. Robert LaBella who belongs to both organizations. He stated, “Both organizations are proud of their Italian heritage and the sacrifices that Italians and Italian Americans have made over the years throughout this great nation.” He went on to add, “The friendship, support, and respect that these organizations have for each other is something that makes me proud as a member of both and as an Italian American.”
This year marks IAATO’s 47th anniversary as an organization that is dedicated to children, families and the fostering of Italian-American heritage and culture. IAATO was started by a few dedicated members, and over the years, has grown into a membership that is now over 400 strong! Due to their growth they have been able to accomplish many of their goals as an organization, and increase many levels of service to their community. They have an Italian Cultural Center, which serves as their headquarters, a world class banquet facility, classrooms, meeting rooms and a Resource Center. They also provide thousands of dollars in scholarships for students that pursue Italian Studies. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorers, Little Leaguers and many others have also benefited by receiving funds and playground equipment from IAATO.
The AVS, on the other hand, is a smaller but more historical organization. Founded in 1875 and incorporated in 1893, the AVS is the nation’s oldest Italian American mutual aid society. It was originally established so Italian men could congregate, escape from discrimination and anti-Italianism that began during the period of large-scale Italian immigration during the late 19th century. Since that time the society members have made it a priority to assist each other and their families when there was/is no other place to turn. Today, the AVS continues to be a mutual aid society as well as a 501(c)3 organization assisting individuals and organizations in the community and providing educational scholarships. They are active in combating pervasive negative stereotyping and defamation of Italian Americans in the media and promote the extraordinary history and accomplishments of Italians and Italian-Americans. The AVS also promotes the admiration, general appreciation and love of Italy, its culture, society, arts and people.
*Attached photo: AVS and IAATO Board members pose at their recent dinner at Piancone’s