Students, faculty and family wearing pressed suits and flowing dresses gather at round tables and share pasta Amatriciana, an Italian dish created from a recipe that has been passed down through generations. While traditional Italian music plays, people get up from their seats to dance the tarantella, an Italian folk dance.
Junior Nicole Veltri danced too — for her five relatives who lost their lives in the earthquake that struck Amatrice, Italy, on Aug. 24.
To honor the 299 victims of the earthquake and to provide relief for the people of that region, Veltri pitched the idea for the fundraiser event, Love and Aid for Amatrice, which the Ithaca College Italian Club hosted Nov. 11 in Emerson Suites.
“I felt the presence of my cousins in that room,” she said. “There was so much love and support.”
Veltri said the amount of support from the guests at the event helped her to cope with the loss of her family.
“The biggest takeaway I got was that these people who showed up were so compelled to help,” she said. “They crossed over a distance for my family.”
Coming from a predominantly Italian-American family — her father was born in Amantea, Calabria in Southern Italy and her mother was born in the United States — Veltri, a clinical health studies major with an Italian minor, said she expected to find people with the same appreciation of that culture at the college. In an effort to find peers of the same cultural background, Veltri revived the Italian Club during her sophomore year and is now its president.
“It was a huge part of my identity that I felt like I had lost coming to [college],” she said.
Now, an executive board of five people oversees the growing club. Since October 2015, it has grown into an established campus organization with about 20 active members.
“Our mission is to bring Italian and Italian-American influence to campus through Italian-themed events that unite people who are interested in the culture,” Veltri said. “Celebrating our beautiful culture and our beautiful language is such a crucial part of our identities as Italian-Americans.”
The National Italian American Foundation, a nationally recognized, not-for-profit organization, has a similar mission: to preserve and promote the image and legacy of Italian-American heritage and culture.
This fall, Veltri attended NIAF’s Gala Weekend as a student fellow, one of 12 throughout the country. Veltri said she is working with NIAF to preserve and bring Italian-American culture and heritage to college campuses.
The money raised from the Love and Aid for Amatrice event will be donated to NIAF’s relief fund, which will go to the region of Italy to treat the victims’ injuries and illnesses.
Nicholas Azzopardi, a senior English major and Italian minor, is the treasurer of the Italian Club. He said the event raised $4,000 for NIAF, which surpassed his expectations.
Amanda Chin, a journalism major with an Italian minor and the Italian Club’s secretary, was in charge of organizing the donations and prizes for the event.
Chin recruited restaurants such as Just a Taste, Firehouse Subs and ZaZa’s Cucina to donate gift cards and gift baskets as prizes for the guests. DJ Washburn, a local DJ, provided entertainment throughout the night.
Veltri said the event’s success was more than she had hoped for.
“It has made me feel very loved and supported in this difficult time and it makes me feel like maybe we can help a little,” Veltri said.
Marella Feltrin-Morris, associate professor of Italian at the college and the Italian Club’s faculty adviser, said Veltri’s actions as president were vital to the success of this event and of the club as a whole.
“I couldn’t think of a better president for the Italian Club,” Feltrin-Morris said. “She is a very good role model, energetic and full of ideas.”
Chin also said Veltri was an excellent role model and that her desire to work with Veltri was the reason she was initially inspired to join the Italian Club and run for secretary.
“She cares about the Italian Club so much,” Chin said. “She’s a really great leader and communicator. … She wants people to share her pride for the Italian culture.”
Veltri holds other roles within the college community. She is leading her own research study about patients who have undergone ACL reconstruction surgery and the effects it has on their bodies. Veltri also works in the fitness center at the front desk as a faculty monitor and spin instructor, and is a Liturgical and Eucharistic minister in the Catholic community.
However, Veltri said the Italian Club and Italian culture is her passion — a major source of this coming from the values and lessons she learned from her family.
“I have so much love and support in my family,” Veltri said. “[They have] instilled the values of hard work and pride in what I do and gratitude and appreciation for everything I’ve been given. … I always say the best quality about me is that I am Italian.”