The name UNICO is translated from Italian meaning “unique”, “one”, “only”, or “only one of its kind”. Additionally, it is interpreted as:
U-unity N-neighborliness I-integrity C-charity O-Opporunity.
UNICO was founded on October 10, 1922 in Waterbury, Connecticut. A group of 15 men, led by Dr. Anthony P. Vastola, came together to create what has become a very special and very proud organization. It was Dr. Vastola’s dream to create an Italian American service organization to engage in charitable works, support higher education, and perform patriotic deeds.
In World War I, the Italian American community represented only four percent of the entire United States population. Although 12 percent of all Americans casualties during this conflict were ItalianAmerican, the loyalty of Italian Americans was questioned. The Sacco-Venzetti trial was fueled by prevailing sentiment that Italian Americans remained loyal to their former homeland. Our founders wanted to insure that everyone understood that Italian Americans loved their adopted country and held no allegiance to their native land save traditions and culture.
The name UNICO was selected as best representing the nature and the character of this fledgling organization. The name is the Italian word for unique, one of a kind. The founders believed that UNICO would be the only one of its kind because it placed service to the community before and above fraternity. At the same time they hoped that the rest of society would come to know and understand the real contributions of Italian Americans to our way of life. Its sole purpose was to unite all Italian Americans and motivate them to become more civic minded. In order to accomplish this, members would have to understand that they would have to make sacrifices, not for personal gain, but for service to others. In the ensuing years UNICO became an acronym that stood for Unity, Neighborliness, Integrity, Charity, and Opportunity.
UNICO and the National Civic League Merge
Immediately following World War II, interest was created in merging two disparate groups who held a common idea and common vision; the creation of a truly National Italian American organization with chapters from Massachusetts to Oregon. This second group was known as the National Civic League, with a very strong presence in the Midwest.
Antonio R. Rizzuto was the founder and driving force behind the creation of the National Civic League. He was a very successful contractor, influential business and civic leader who resided in Omaha, Nebraska. His business took him to many other cities in the great heartland of America.
On May 27, 1931, Rizzuto called a meeting of prominent Americans of Italian heritage in his native city of Omaha. The purpose of this gathering was to discuss the need to organize Italian Americans into a national body or group. The underlying theme or purpose for this group would be to promote service to the community or civic work as it was called. The ultimate goal was to make all of its members better American citizens.
A Promise that Continues to be Delivered
Since the inception of UNICO National in 1947, thousands of people and individual charities have been the recipients of UNICO’s charity. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for national and international disasters. Typical of this generosity was the gift of $500,000 to create 10 buildings in Italy to house those suffering form the ravages of an earthquake disaster. UNICO’s latest disaster relief effort was raising $30,000 for victims of the September 11th Twin Towers attack. One of the recipients was Windows of Hope which provided relief to those who worked in the restaurants and food services located in the World Trade Center.
Each year, UNICO Foundation and UNICO National Chapters donate approximately $1 million to various charities. Scholarships continue to be the primary focus, as roughly one-third of all monies raised goes to deserving students from chapter locations throughout the chain.