STAMFORD, Conn. -- The Italian Center on 1620 Newfield Ave. in Stamford, founded in 1909, was started to assist newly arrived immigrants who were adjusting to life in America.
Today, the Italian Center is a very large facility on more than 28 acres with four pools, miniature golf, playground, gymnasium, fitness center, tennis and platform tennis courts, babysitting and three banquet rooms and more.
In addition, there is a large outdoor tented picnic area with an additional pool, sand volleyball courts, bocce courts, basketball court, softball field and tennis courts. While members can enjoy most of these amenities, outsiders can rent the banquet rooms and outdoor picnic area for events.
Paul Hickey, a Stamford resident, who was born and raised in Stamford, has been the executive director for 15 years. When the center moved to Newfield Avenue in 1970, Hickey's parent’s became members. He recalls playing basketball there with his family and friends and attending different events. He has a lot of great memories growing up there.
“It's always been a big part of the community. We have all attended numerous events there over the years. It has always been a Stamford institution,'' he said.
What most people don’t realize is what the Italian Center does for the community. It opens its doors to many different organizations. The IC sponsors youth teams in the North Stamford Little League and the Stamford Girls Babe Ruth Softball League. It provides free services to groups like the Cub Scouts, who use the center's pool for swim testing and use the picnic grounds for their year end campfire meeting.
The Stamford Youth Football, Stamford American Little League and Stamford Old Timers, use their meeting rooms. The Italian Center also provides a free sit down lunch for Stamford senior citizen groups on a monthly basis. The event is very popular and serves approximately 200 seniors each month.
The center gives cash contributions to deserving groups on an annual basis (more often in some cases), including the Summer Jazz program, CT Food Bank, T. Musili Charities, Salvation Army, Shelter for the Homeless, Malta House, Insprica and Person-to-Person.
The center also gives in-kind contributions by charging a lower price to certain charitable organizations, like the Alyson Rioux Foundation, Jewish War Vets, Raise the Bar and St Jude’s Children Hospital to name a few, which allows them to raise more money at their events held at the center. And when an unfortunate incident occurs in the community, the center provides assistance on an ad-hoc basis for families in need.
“If there is a tragedy like a fire or something in town, the board gets together and comes up with a way to help. There is no question, we just get it done,'' Hickey said.
The Italian Center also supports the Italian heritage and culture by providing a venue for the more than 12 Italian American Clubs in Stamford. The IC’s cultural contributions include college scholarships to Stamford High School seniors studying the Italian language, Stamford’s Columbus Day Parade, wine and food tastings and free Italian movie nights.
My father-in-law, Paul P. Bova, who is a board member at the Italian Center, sums it up well. “The Italian Center is a Stamford treasure,'' he said. "It is unique to Stamford and unlike any other institution in the city or the state. A mix of affordable recreation, wellness, community services, cultural enrichment and charitable giving. If it disappeared tomorrow, I am not sure how the 1,200 plus families who rely on them every day would fill that void.”
Robyn Blosio Bova is a Realtor with Higgins Group in Stamford and a volunteer with Backyard Humanitarian.