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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NELA Gala in Washington: a trip to remember!

Dear friends and readers,

Spring seems to have left already and to leave space to summer. The weather in NYC is in the 80’s F (more or less 30C). The sun is shining everyday and life seems more beautiful than ever: you know by now that the sun has a magic happy power on me!!
Last week it was such a great week. I was honored to perform on May 25 at the Annual National Education & Leadership Awards Gala of the Order Sons of Italy in Washington.
I left NYC on Tuesday afternoon. The weather was already sunny and I was already aware that the temperature was going up to the 90’s (33C) in Washington. So I was ready to go.
In the car on our way to Washington
The traffic was OK and we left NYC around 2:30 PM. With many stops for sight seeing and coffee we were save and sound in Washington at 8:30Pm. We were staying at the beautiful Washington Court Hotel. I checked my room and decided to go for a tea when I met already in the lobby the great actor and MC of the GALA Joe Mantegna and the National President of the OSIA Joe DiTrapani. After a tea and some chat with them I went back to my room for some relax and sleep. The day after was the big day!!

Capitol Reflecting Pool
The U.S. Capitol

At the Washington Monument
With JJ at the Mall

I woke up at 9Am slipped in my Gym suit and I was ready to go for usual morning walk. Since the hotel was near The Capitol we decided to go there. The weather was incredible and the view of the imposing Capitol and the Mall all around was breathtaking. As usual there are there tons of people, most of them students wearing all the same T-shirt so to be recognizable also from a distance if they get lost. We walked for up to three hours. Time flew by so quickly!! All around the Mall there are Museums, of Modern Art, American History, a Botanical Garden, National space and Air space Museum, they even have an exposition of Venice so many wonderful things to see all of them with free entrance. As you can imagine tourists are all over the Mall. But the Mall is so big that you still feel like you are walking around all alone. Wonderful time over there. It was then lunchtime. I went back to the Hotel for a shower and we went for lunch on a very nice and little coffee near the Hotel. Before I knew it was already 3Pm and time to make some preparation for the show.

Sound check
With Chris
At 5Pm was time to go for the sound check. Also this year the GALA was at the National Building Museum, a very impressive and beautiful building. I had had the honor to perform there also in 2009 when among the honoree there was the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. Since this year there were among the honorees no Presidents, the check to get into the building was less complicated. Actually it’s always easy for us artists to get in since we don’t have to wait on line or to get screened, but it’s a different story for the guests.
My sound check was quickly and easy. Every year they have a very great team and company doing the sound. Lucky me the sound engineer was also this year Chris, a very talented and nice guy and he knew already my voice and style so in no time we were done!!
It was time to rush to the hotel. I had one hour to do my makeup and hair and wear my gown.
With Carmen Policy and his lovely wife Gayle
Also this year they were honoring some incredible great people: this year Receiving the National Education & Leadership Award
was Carmen Policy, Founder & Proprietor, Casa Piena Vineyard, former President and CEO, San Francisco 49ers
. A very nice man I got to meet after the show with his lovely wife Gayle, who invited me to go and sing in San Francisco. Looking forward to that.
Receiving the 3rd Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service
was Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.)
Serving his 3rd term, U.S. Senate
 and also a Veteran, U.S. Army
Receiving the Special Award for Courage & Patriotism was Steven Nardizzi, Esq.
 Executive Director of Wounded Warrior Project.
Receiving the Award for Excellence in Global Business was Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, chairman of Finmeccanica S.p.A.

With JJ and Gen. Odierno
Also present that evening were 10 young Italian Americans who received the 2011 SIF Scholarship and will now attend many of America's top universities. It is always wonderful to see those young students getting their scholarship on stage and see their enthusiasm.
With Sgt. Giunta
Special Guest were Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command and Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta Medal of Honor Recipient.

Master of Ceremonies also this year was Award-winning Actor and dear friend, Joe Mantegna, which as usual did an incredible job as MC of the night.

With the two soldiers of my table
The night had a very high energy. The presence of the Gen. Odieno and Staff Sgt. Giunta and their very inspirational speeches gave the night a touch of patriotism and pride to all the people in the room. SSgt. Giunta was introduced by Gen. Odierno, who said, "This young soldier represents what our military is all about: unwavering dedication to each other...we never leave a fallen comrade."  Sgt. Giunta received the nation's highest honor for valor after risking his life to save a wounded comrade who was being carried away by Taliban terrorists during an ambush in Afghanistan. Sgt. Giunta, who is the first living American serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, did receive also that night a $10,000 scholarship from the OSIA and did a very nice speech that touched everybody. He wanted to make sure for all us to understand that he is just a normal soldiers, who did nothing special, who just did was he was supposed to do, serve the country and protect his comrades. He said so sweet and modestly “I am only one of many serving in the U.S. military today," he said. "I appreciate the honors I have been receiving, but I did what thousands of others do every day: fight for this country."
And it was Joe Mantegna that so wonderfully replay for all of us saying ” You may be one of millions, but you are also for sure One in a Million”.
With Joe
I got to meet Sgt. Giunta and also Gen. Odierno, incredible people!! Both Gen. Odierno and SSgt. Giunta were given standing ovations by the audience. At my table there were also two soldiers, female soldiers, and it was so wonderful to give to them my personal thanks for what they do!!

It was wonderful to hear the speeches of all those incredible recipients. It was a mix of laughs and touching moments. It was wonderful to see Steven Nardizzi,
 Executive Director of the Wounded Warrior Project receiving the Special Award for Courage & Patriotism.  The WWP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, FL. Their mission is to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured service members aid and assist each other and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service member. WWP was founded in Virginia by a group of veterans and friends who took action to help the injured service men and women of this generation. It was very powerful and inspirational to learn from his speech how empowering it can be to help others. If you want to learn more about this organization here is the link:

Theresa on stage
With Theresa
A big surprise for me was to see at the GALA my wonderful friend and great singer Theresa Sareo, who’s involved with the WWP. She sang her own song “Thought The Soldiers Eyes” and touched the heart of everybody. Theresa, who lost her right leg in a traffic accident in 2002, is a wonderful friend. She always had the desire to do something for the wounded soldiers, she always felt a connection with them and maybe it would have been a way to share with them her own pain. I put her in contact a few years ago with my wonderful friend John Vigiano,  who I knew was involved with the Walter Reed Army Hospital. They became dear friends and since that day Theresa frequently performs for injured troops at Walter Reed Army Hospital, near Washington, D.C.
With my great surprise before she sang she thanked me for my help to achieve this introducing her to John Vigiano. That was so sweet of her. This was for sure one of the things I would have never expected from her, I never felt I needed a thank for. I did it because it I love her and I wanted to help a friend. Small thing at time can mean so much to other. I felt so happy that I was able to give a dear friend like Theresa some joy with such a small introduction to another dear friend like John Vigiano!!

It was a great night. A night that made me think about how lucky I am to be free in a country without war. And also so thankful for what so many soldiers are doing for us: they fight for our freedom and we should never forget to thank them and ask God to protect them!!  And also a night that made clear to me  that I can do help other with small things. Just some kindness can do so much.

Show time
Show time (photo F, Isgro)
Well yes, among all this emotions, it was also my time to perform: the audience was so nice to me and I felt so honored to be able to sing for all of them. It was for sure an incredible view from the stage: from the US Congress there it was Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Sherrod Brown, the current Ambassador from Italy to the U.S. Giulio Terzi as well as the immediate past ambassador, Giovanni Castellaneta, and of course the heroes of the night Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and his son, Capt. Anthony Odierno (U.S. Army, ret.) who lost an arm in Iraq and SSgt. Salvatore Giunta among all the others honorees. And of course Joe Mantegna, who I thanked from the stage for his help too before I sang. Every year I need three recommendation letters from outstanding people in the business for my VISA, so to be able to work and stay in the USA. I asked Joe for such a letter two year ago and in 5 days I had an incredible letter that even surprised my lawyer. A big star like Joe with an ever-bigger heart!!
After I sang Joe came to me telling me too that I didn’t need to thank him since he was so glad to be able to help, and gave me a big hug and told me I was, as usual, wonderful up there. What a night!!

My Venice in Washington
I felt so blessed to be there and to be able to sing my heart out for such a wonderful group of people.
The Venice Exposition
It was more than ever clear to me that we can make this world a better place just by standing for each other, caring for each other, being there for each other. We don’t need big acts to be of help, small things can change the life of a person. Nothing is too small or too big, the important thing is to act, to do something for each other!!

I went to bed with my heart full of joy!!
The day after I went to see some of the Museums, the Venetian exposition and of course the White House. A trip to remember for sure!!

With JJ at the White House gate
Stay tune for my next week BLOG.

Love always,


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