Service above self – that is the motto that has rung true for UNICO members for generations. Greater Ramsey UNICO, in particular, has dedicated their time to ensuring the area is well taken care of.
Founded in 2004 by member Rick D’Arminio, who had been involved in UNICO since 1980, with the help of then-Mayor Richard Muti, this chapter of UNICO, which is just one of the national Italian-American organization’s 125 chapters, has pledged itself to giving back for causes such as scholarships, Cooley’s Anemia, mental health, St. Jude’s, the V Foundation and cancer research. UNICO, started in 1922, is the United States’ largest Italian-American service organization; it covers 25 states, with each chapter averaging 50-60 members, according to D’Arminio.
“We started mainly under the funding or handing out of scholarships. That was our claim to fame. And then we grew to working with charities,” D’Arminio, who also served as national president to the organization in 2014-15, said. “You don’t join for personal gain; it’s really to help and do good deeds.”
Greater Ramsey UNICO currently has about 50 members actively involved. The chapter raises money through a variety events that give back to a multitude of areas and works to ensure they are doing as much as they can for the community. In one instance, the organization hosted a dinner to raise money for a contractor who is currently suffering from kidney failure. Money raised went to help the family and for medical bills.
The signature event for the chapter though is Charity DiVino, a buffet dinner hosted at Season’s Restaurant in Washington Township that attracts 150-200 people and raises $10,000 to $20,000. The annual event involves wine tastings and a tricky tray. The service organization also works to raise money through events like a Night at the Races and other fundraisers.
“Ramsey’s chapter has been around for 13 years, going on 14, and I think the biggest achievement for a chapter of 50 members is we raise about $30,000 to $40,000 a year. That in and of itself is a big achievement, so we help a lot of causes,” D’Armninio said.
Greater Ramsey UNICO’s main goals are to assist the local charities that need help while also keeping the national connection to UNICO and donate to them as well. Locally, the chapter does a lot of work to raise and donate money for Ramsey’s Center for Food Action, Ramsey Response Unit and Meaningful Movements, an organization that helps developmentally challenged children with dance and social programs, as well as local scholarships. They also donate on a more national scale too.
“Our home office is in Fairfield and UNICO national is based there,” said D’Arminio. “The good thing is the local chapters are permitted to do what they want locally. On a national scale, because we all have the UNICO name, many chapters donate to the national chapter causes, such as the national scholarship programs, even though the local chapters do local scholarships too. We contribute to Cooley’s Anemia, mental health, St. Jude’s, so even though we donate money on our own, we could run a fundraiser and donate $5000 to whatever we want, locally or to one of those causes. When we go to a national convention once a year, we raise approximately $50,000 at a national convention right on the floor because all the chapters that are there are donating. There’s a national connection because we carry the name. We’re all one big family. But on a local level, we’re able to do whatever we want.”
Even with all the good work they do, the biggest challenge that remains is retention of members, a problem D’Arminio says each chapter is faced with. While D’Arminio has been a member since 1980, he said it is typically not common for members to stay active that long, and it’s hard to keep members staying involved due to time constraints people have in their everyday life.
“To keep people active for 3, 5, or 10 years is difficult, but we’ve been fortunate though that we, like many chapters, if we lose 10 members, we gain 10,” he said.
With its endless dedication to giving back to the community, Greater Ramsey UNICO plan to continue what they’ve been doing. Additionally, in efforts to keep the organization fresh and growing, the chapter’s board of directors changes every one to two years.
“It always comes with fresh ideas, but most of them keep doing what we’ve been doing because we’ve been successful,” D’Arminio said.
With causes that give back to so many, the work being done is priceless. Greater Ramsey UNICO hopes to keep building on the prosperous foundation they have built and provide their services on both a local and national scale. More than anything though, they are hoping to make a difference in the lives of those who need it.
“When you’re helping someone’s child get a scholarship or you’re raising money for someone who has cancer or donating money to certain organizations in town that provide services, it speaks for itself in terms of significance,” D’Arminio said. “We’re helping a child’s education; we’re helping an organization continue their services to those in need in town – what more can be said.”
To be a part of Greater Ramsey UNICO, one must be Italian, Italian-American or married to an Italian. Monthly meetings are held at local restaurants and membership forms, as well as additional information about the service organization, can be found on their website at www.grunico.org/about-us.html.
By Tara DeLorenzo