Jesuit High School's Italian Club is putting a unique, cultural spin on service, while providing students an opportunity to learn about a prominent culture in Tampa's history.
The Italian Club was formed more than a year ago when Lex Capitano '20 approached Jesuit teacher Carmelo LoSauro '10 and expressed his desire to start a club dedicated to celebrating Italian culture. The two came up with the idea to combine aspects of community service with culture to create a unique club experience at Jesuit. LoSauro now serves as the club's moderator and Capitano is club president. (Pictured L-R on the homepage are Cooper Lufkin '20, Reid Dominguez '20, Capitano, LoSauro, Dominic Garcia '20, Patrick Leone '19, and Spencer Williams '20.)
The Italian Club has quickly become one of the most popular student organizations at Jesuit, retaining 174 members – more than 20% of the student body. Students of all backgrounds are welcome to join; the only requirement is an interest in Italian culture.
Since the club's inception, the organization Sons and Daughters of Italy, which is dedicated to preserving Italian heritage, language, and culture, has been an important collaborator. Sons and Daughters of Italy often reaches out to the club with service opportunities connected to the Italian community in Tampa. Additionally, Nick Capitano, the president of the local branch of the Sons and Daughters of Italy, recently attended an Italian Club meeting to discuss the history of the Italian community in Tampa, and why its preservation is important.
Nick Capitano (no relation to Lex Capitano) said the earliest Italian immigrants arrived in Tampa in the 1890s to work as unskilled laborers in Ybor City's cigar factories. Alongside Ybor's Cuban, Spanish, and Jewish residents, these Italian Americans were pillars in the Tampa Bay community as they became skilled and respected members of the cigar industry, as well as the owners of many small businesses, such as restaurants, stores, and cafes.
Nick Capitano said the story of the success of Italian immigrants in Ybor City is one of aspirations met through hard work, cooperation, and inclusion, and Jesuit's Italian Club works to preserve that legacy.
"I believe there is a lot of value to cultural clubs, including the Italian Club," LoSauro said. "We're not just here for students of Italian descent, we're open to any student. Our goal is to highlight the importance of learning about one's culture, but it is just as important to have an understanding of a culture that is unfamiliar."
Aside from cultural education, the club offers students interesting ways to serve their community.
Recently, the Italian Club created an altar in the Jesuit cafeteria for the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Conforming to the Italian tradition of thanking St. Joseph for preventing famine, the club decorated the altar with flowers, fava beans, breads and cakes, candles, and images of St. Joseph. Provisions for the altar were purchased with donations from Italian Club members and later assembled by them.
The club has several big service opportunities on the horizon. On April 7, Italian Club members will volunteer as ushers and altar servers during Mass at the Italian Club in Ybor City prior to Festa Italiana. After Mass, they will carry the statue of the Holy Family in the traditional processional through the streets surrounding Ybor's Centennial Park, marking the opening of the festival.
For Mission Drive Day on April 26, the club plans to use member contributions to create baskets that will be auctioned off to raise money. The Italian Club also will once again host a meatball eating contest on Mission Drive Day, an event which raised over $400 last year for the Mission Drive.
On May 5, Italian Club members will volunteer at the Spring Carnival for Pinnacle Academy. The academy caters to students who have developmental conditions or learning differences, and members of the Italian Club will accompany the students, help set up the carnival, and operate games, including a dunk tank.
Jesuit students interested in joining the Italian Club and participating in these service opportunities should email LoSauro at email@example.com and sign up on the Italian Club's Canvas page.