“UNICO cares! They quietly give service to those in need and sponsor education for our youth. THANK YOU UNICO!”



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 

UNICO’s Faithful Support of Worthy Charitable & Education Activities

For over 100 years, UNICO has served as a compassionate and unwavering leader of the Italian American community. Its distinguished history is characterized by dedicated service to others and by benevolently supporting worthy charitable and educational causes. Since it was founded in 1922 by Dr. Anthony P. Vastola, UNICO has served as a pillar of the Italian American community, generously giving money, time, energy and resources to help others.

As UNICO grew and expanded with new chapters, the need for a centralized organization became apparent. UNICO National was founded in 1947 to bring unity and coordination to the chapters. Since then, thousands of individuals and charities have been the recipients of UNICO’s financial support. Millions of dollars have been raised for targeted campaigns, including those addressing national and international disaster relief.

UNICO and its members have always answered the call to those in need, providing relief and assistance. Typical of this generosity was the gift of $500,000 to create 10 buildings in Italy to house those suffering from the ravages of an earthquake disaster. UNICO responded in a similar fashion with relief assistance, following the September 11th attack in New York City that personally touched so many Italian Americans. One of the recipients of UNICO’s support was Windows of Hope, which provided support to those who worked in the restaurants and food services located in the World Trade Center.

Each year, the UNICO Foundation together with UNICO National chapters donate approximately one million dollars to numerous charities. UNICO supports various admirable causes, including Cooley’s Anemia, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, mental health wellness programs, cancer prevention and research, food banks, shelters, and other local community needs. Education is a primary focus, as roughly one-third of all monies raised goes towards funding scholarships to deserving students from chapters located throughout the nation.

UNICO National has funded major research in Cooley’s Anemia, cancer research and prevention, and mental health wellness and awareness. Many of these worthwhile causes continue to receive generous support from the UNICO chapters and its members every year. Through its association with the Jimmy Valvano Foundation, UNICO has funded several $50,000 grants to help find a cure for cancer. In 2022, UNICO supported Peggy’s Pathways to fund research and treatment for innovative treatment for women’s cancer. New Beginings for Tomorrow, which supports adults with autism and other developmental issues, also received support through the UNICO Lipari Mental Health Committee.

In higher education, UNICO National has established itself as a dedicated leader of the Italian American community. In addition to awarding scholarships, UNICO supports the study of Italian language in high schools and has endowed chairs at several universities to promote Italian American Studies, as well as the rich history of Italy. In 1986, the UNICO Districts and Chapters were asked to support the creation of the first Endowed Chair in Modern Italian History in the United States, which would be housed at the University of Connecticut. After an arduous campaign this small group was responsible for raising over $250,000 toward the $1 million objective. The campaign was completed in 1992 and Professor John Davis was appointed to be the first Noether Chair in Modern Italian History.

In 1993, the Chancellor of Seton Hall University, Father Edward Peterson, asked UNICO National to partner with the university to create a Chair in Italian Studies. This $1 million campaign was completed five years later, and Professor William Connell became the first La Motta Chair in Italian Studies. Due to the enthusiastic response by UNICO’s membership in New Jersey, a separate endowment was created to provide an Italian Library Collection at Seton Hall. The Valente Collection represents one of the most extensive Italian collections in the United States and supports the activities of the La Motta Chair.

At the 1994 National Convention, a third $1 million university chair campaign was launched. This one represented a partnership with California State University at Long Beach. In 1999, Professor Carlos Chiarenza was appointed as the first Graziadio Chair in Italian Studies, Concurrent with the Graziadio Chair campaign was yet another unique endeavor. It was a creation of a committee to raise $300,000 to fully endow a Fellowship in Italian-American History. The first DeDominicis Fellowship was conferred on Annette Pontilo in 1998 who was conducting research her doctoral thesis.

The UNICO university chair endowment trend continued in 1998 when a group led by the Brookhaven, New York Chapter started a $1.5 million campaign to create a Chair in Italian Studies at SUNY at Stony Brook. In 2001, the campaign for an Endowed Chair at Montclair State University in New Jersey resulted in the creation of the Theresa and Lawrence R. Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies. Held by Professor Teresa Fiore since its inception in 2011, the Chair is devoted to the promotion of Italian and Italian American culture through educational and academic activities that serve the campus, as well as the nearby New Jersey and New York City communities.

UNICO National also serves as a well-respected leader and recognizable voice in the effort to promote a positive image of Italian Americans. The Anti-Bias committee has combatted the negative stereotypes depicted of Italian Americans in media, entertainment, and popular American culture. Through its continuous educational and awareness efforts, UNICO has corrected the negative slights and regrettable misrepresentations. Instead UNICO proactively promotes an accurate image of the Italian American community. Each year, UNICO celebrates the many significant achievements and contributions of Italian Americans in the United States at the UNICO awards gala. The true image of the Italian Americans is one which has profoundly contributed to our nation. Italian American contributions, achievements and leadership are evident in all areas of the United States, including the arts, business, law, science, medicine, technology, innovation, national defense, and public service. UNICO celebrates these meaningful and impactful Italian American milestones, which are apparent in local communities, as well as on the national and world stages.

UNICO also promotes the durable bond between the United States and Italy. Italy is an important and steadfast ally of the United States politically, economically, and culturally. Italian Americans are the heirs of the very special culture and rich history of Italy. Italy has contributed immensely to world history and continues to be seen as the global leaders in the arts, fashion, food, and beyond. Italian Americans maintain this outstanding tradition through their contributions evident in all industries in the United States.

For over 100 years, UNICO’s charitable efforts have exceeded the objectives and forward-thinking vision of our founder Dr. Vastola, through its deep commitment to community and loyal service to those in need.  Fulfilling its admirable nonprofit mission, UNICO has provided millions in financial support to commendable philanthropic causes along with the steadfast commitment and effort of its members. UNICO remains a dedicated champion of higher education by awarding scholarships, endowing university chairs, and promoting the study of Italian Studies and language. UNICO continues to promote a positive and accurate image of Italian Americans and celebrates their many achievements and contributions to our nation. Over the next 100 years, UNICO will continue to lead the Italian American community and to deliver on its promise through our faithful service to others and our substantial impact to our communities and the nation.