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Meet Fra Noi’s newest columnist!

Hi, my name is Tina and I’m an Italian American. And, no, this is not a column about addictions or interventions but, as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, lifelong resident of Melrose Park, it almost feels like the introduction that has been tightly bottled up within me for several decades just longing to get out — like a genie in an old lamp. Most times, people guess wrong at my nationality, but thanks to this opportunity given to me by Fra Noi, I am validated and excited to be “home,” where the vowel at the end of my name is always welcome.

Some readers may know me as the editor and publisher of Neighbors magazine, a free, monthly magazine that circulates in the near western suburbs of Chicago. Or perhaps you may have seen me as a guest on the award-winning WTTW-Channel 11 show “Check, Please!” Others may be reading me for the first time. In any event, I am looking forward to introducing you to the fellow Italian Americans who inspire me, who keep traditions alive, who are passionate about their work, their devotion, their family, their heritage and their community. I have dedicated my career to the people and stories that rarely make headlines, shining the spotlight on their talents, generosity and humility so that others may be motivated out of the doldrums of depressing world news and prompted to dig a little deeper within themselves for the greater good. I may never live a life of obscene wealth but I have certainly had the luxury and good fortune of knowing selfless, courageous people, experiencing life-changing moments, celebrating lives well lived and jobs well done.

Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, from Our Lady of Mount Carmel School (now closed) to Mother Theodore Guerin High School (now Guerin Prep) to Rosary College (now Dominican University) that keeps me grounded; maybe it’s my DNA, a family tree rich in prayerful devotees, patriots, hard workers, silent sufferers and compassionate givers that are always gentle reminders that we won’t be judged by our W-2s on the last day.

I have been writing human interest and feature stories since 1982, bringing “good news” stories to the forefront along with individuals who make a difference in other people’s lives, such as Westchester’s former mayor, the late John Sinde; individuals who serve as role models in business and leadership, such as Fenwick High School in Oak Park’s former President Fr. Richard LaPata; Nella Curatolo of Gioacchino’s Restaurant, the Sangiacomo family of Mickey’s Drive-In and the Lezza family of Lezza Spumoni and Desserts, all located in Bellwood; and organizations that distinguish themselves from competitors by way of their teamwork, generosity and ultimate success such as the Sheridan Carroll Charitable Works Fund.

In April 2005, much to my own surprise, I took home a coveted Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism presented by the Chicago Headline Club chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Among those receiving honors at the most competitive event in its 28-year history were the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Crain’s Chicago Business, WBBM-AM, WGN-TV, and, who? Tina Valentino of Neighbors magazine? My October 2004 story, “Etched in Stone,” unearthed chapters of fascinating history literally buried in Mount Carmel and Queen of Heaven cemeteries in Hillside, with the help of “tour guide” and mayor, Joseph T. Tamburino.

But enough about me. Future columns will be dedicated to Italian Americans who are doing fun, interesting, unique and commendable things in Melrose Park, Elmwood Park, River Grove, Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Maywood, Bellwood, Hillside, Berkeley and Northlake. Like the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo Provincial Guild, currently at work preparing for this year’s annual St. Joseph Table, which will be held on March 18 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the convent, 1414 N. 37th Ave. in Melrose Park. This is not merely a calendar listing — this is a significant event that can only succeed when others make an effort to not only support the Sisters who have cared for so many, including our elderly relatives at Villa Scalabrini, but to support a frail Italian tradition. If not now, when? When it’s gone? Join with us, bring your children and grandchildren and share this endangered tradition with them, teach them about St. Joseph and show them, by your example, the importance of keeping traditions alive!

For more information about the MSSC St. Joseph Table or to send me your thoughts and ideas about this column and future issues, feel free to email me at mel60160@aol.com. EDITOR’S NOTE — Future columns will be digested in Fra Noi and posted in their entirety atwww.franoi.com.

About Tina Valentino