“I am most passionate about bringing my knowledge [of tasting] to consumers, “said an enthusiastic Orietta Gianjorio, a native Italian from Rome,...
It is said the only constant thing in life is change. That may be true, but knowing that doesn't make change any easier. Being the person to bring about change is even more challenging.
Valeri Orsini, president of the San Diego chapter of UNICO – a nationwide Italian-American organization – can attest to that from firsthand experience. Even her presidency was a change for the organization: In the last 17 years, only two other women have acted as chapter president on a board whose members have primarily been older men.
Orsini joined UNICO approximately five years ago, originally, she says, to spend more time with her father, former chapter president John Orsini, and to learn more about her Italian heritage and culture.
“My grandparents died pretty early,” she says. “My grandfather's from Italy and he spoke fluent Italian in the household when I was around; a lot of the older male members kind of remind me of [him], so that's one of the reasons that I've stayed in it. I also just like the culture about the group: There's the respect there that you have between each other; I don't know if it's just because we're Italian, but the men are very respectful, very disciplined with the children [and] the children seem [to have] the old values that aren't around anymore. I like being in that environment.”
After assuming the presidency, Orsini found herself in the unique position of bridging the gap between the older generation of existing members and the younger generation who is beginning to express a revived interest in its roots and heritage. Orsini says bringing the younger generation to the table has been a primary focus – albeit a challenging one – of her presidency.
“We're trying to get younger people involved,” she says. “I think it's a little harder in California, being Italian...and there's so much going on in San Diego – the beach, this, that, bars – I think it's harder to get a younger group involved with an older generation to learn the family culture, learn the values...but I think it would benefit them if they would because there's so much for them to learn [about] how things are done versus what's going on now. There are just so many things that can be forgotten that shouldn't be.”
Pursuing her efforts to revitalize the organization with a younger, fresher outlook, Orsini has brought several new events to the table that did not previously exist, including a wine tour up in Temecula and a wine and dessert night held at San Diego's Convivio Center. These new events have all been well-received by members, new and old, and achieved successful turnouts and high praises. Mixing in these new types of events with the tried-and-true club lunches and brunches has brought in “young, vibrant and lively mentalities [who will] hopefully bring in their friends who are Italian or their family members and say, 'Oh this is pretty fun; I like doing this.'”
Orsini credits a large portion of the success of these new events to the continued support, respect and trust given to her by her fellow board members. “There's a balancing act because the ideas you want to sell they're not too sure [about] because they've done things the same way for so long and [now] they're realizing they need to change,” Orsini explains.
“I feel that's where I'm respected and they trust me to make those changes happen. For them to support me means so much to me and it's working. We're getting new memberships out of it, which is awesome and were getting more participation. So I think they're now getting ready to embrace that new era of change.”
Orsini is unsure whether or not her presidency will extend another year or if she will step down to a board member position to allow someone else to take the reins. She is confident, however, that even with a new president, this new era of change will maintain its momentum and carry the organization forward to a new and exciting future.
Of the legacy she hopes to leave as a young, female president, Orsini says, “I just want them to remember the great events that we had and the people who were there and the laughs and the stories that were told. I just want them to remember I was always an active president.”