Exchange students head home after successful visit

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Johnston State Rep. Stephen Ucci sat at a small table inside the packed Young Pannese Society Club last Wednesday evening with a satisfied smile on his face.

The Johnston native exchanged pleasantries with Msgr. Carlo Montecalvo of St. Sebastian’s in Providence and Don Mimmo Guida, the Pastor from Panni Foggia, Italy and raised his wine glass as a special toast in honor of the night’s historic happening.

Later in the evening, Ucci was on the receiving end of a special award – one that Pannese Society Vice President Louis Spremulli presented as a tribute for helping make the current and first-ever Student Exchange with officials from the Liceo Classico Lanza School in Italy an overwhelming success.

Ucci, Student Exchange Chairman Louis Mansolillo later said, has been the unique international student exchange program’s major contributor.

“We can’t thank you enough,” Spremulli said while presenting a framed certificate to Ucci. “Your interest and hands-on help is greatly appreciated.”

Ucci wasn’t the only political office holder who stepped up to the plate to help make the Pannese Society-Johnston High School Student Exchange – which winds up this morning when the Italian students and school officials depart for New York’s Kennedy Airport – an overwhelming two-week success story.

U.S. Congressman David Ciccilline and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse were also among the largest individual donors while local gifts came from Johnston State Rep. Deborah Fellela and Rep. Arthur Corvese.

In addition to enjoying what many people concurred was a delicious and bountiful and Italian buffet prepared by Café DiPanni Executive Chef Vincent Storti, the ever-growing Pannese Society – with help from the night’s host Young Pannese Society – held an official welcome/awards dinner inside the neighborhood Itlo-American club.

Students and officials from Liceo Classico Lanza received specially framed awards that read, in part: “Your actions have earned you a place in history between both countries. You have taken the time to participate in a life-enriching program which has given you rewarding culture. We present this certificate as a remembrance of the actions between everyone involved in promoting culture heritage for present and future generations.”

Students from Johnston High School, most of who served as host families for their counterparts from Panni Foggia, Italy, also received special awards.

Perhaps Dennis Morrell, the JHS principal, said it best about the Sister City Student Exchange Program during his remarks.

“This will hopefully start more language studies,” said Morrell. “Language and culture are important to me.”

Giuseppe Trecca, the Principal at Liceo Classico Lanza, replied via his interpreter and teacher Silvia Gliatta who is originally from Boston but now lives in Italy: “You really feel so much love when you come here. This program is beautiful.”

Peter Goneconte, who serves as president and is growing the Young Pannese Social Club as well as Café DiPanni, offered: “I’m really enjoying being part of and seeing this cultural exchange program. It’s important for the students and adults, as well.”

Pannese Society President Joseph Spremulli told an attentive audience just how important the Sister City Program between Johnston and Panni Foggia is becoming and wanted it known we hope to further promote tourism, the cultures and heritages of both countries and our beloved people.”

Spremulli, who just two days earlier had foot surgery but made sure he was at last week’s dinner, added with special enthusiasm ringing in his voice: “Welcome to the United States of America, we’re happy to have you here with us!”

For the students, school officials and Pastor Don Mimmo Guida, the past two weeks have been non-stop with visits to the New York System in Olneyville, Narragansett, Newport, Town Hall Lanes, R.I. State House where they met Gov. Gina Raimondo and many other points of interest in the Ocean State.

Emotions were running high when the Italian students said their good-byes to their newfound JHS friends and host families and other folks who made their first-ever trip to America special.

Mansolillo, who took a group of JHS students to Panni Foggia, Italy this spring, said, “What I took way from this exchange was the deep affection displayed by our Italian visitors for practically everything our state had to offer. Not only the beautiful vistas we showed them from Providence and Narragansett Bay to Newport and all the people they countered; but a deep appreciation for all the freedoms we Rhode Islanders take for granted; simple pleasures like even making s’mores over an open fire.”

Perhaps Trecca best summed up the event.

“The principal told us that basically we are brothers and sisters not only of one blood, not only of kinship; but more importantly a brotherhood in culture in sharing of values of peace and solidarity between two different peoples and culture in total trust through mutual knowledge.”

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