Serving our Community

History of Co.As.It.

Co.As.It., the Italian Association of Assistance, was first established in NSW in 1968, under the auspice of the Italian Government.

The initial aim of the voluntary organisation was to assist the large numbers of Italian migrants who came to Australia in the Post World War II era. Co.As.It. was formed with two distinct aims: to assist migrants through a coordinated settlement welfare program, and to preserve and promote an awareness of the Italian language and culture in Australia.

Today Co.As.It. NSW is one of the major and most active ethnic voluntary agencies, offering a wide range of services and programs focused on community services, educational and cultural activities.

Co.As.It. is a registered charity and in 1983 was incorporated under the NSW Companies Code. It is managed by an annually elected Board of Directors which is assisted by appointed Sub-committees. The quality of assistance offered by Co.As.It. is without discrimination in relation to age, sex, religion or political affiliation.

There is a genuine need for Co.As.It.'s services. Through continued Australian and Italian Government funding, the support of over 300 dedicated volunteers and a growing membership base, Co.As.It. will continue to meet the ever-changing needs of the Italian-Australian community in NSW.

The Beginning

Co.As.It. (Comitato Assistenza Italiani) was established in Sydney by the Italian Consul General of the time, Dott. Guido Natali during a meeting held on 28 May 1968 at the premises of the Scalabrinian Fathers, 80 Albion Street, Surry Hills. The function of Co.As.It. was to "coordinate, promote and develop the various activities of assistance for the Italian immigrants in NSW, in the social, legal, cultural, professional, educational and recreational fields".

The Co.As.It. structures were established by the Italian Government acting on its obligations to provide assistance and support for the millions of post World War II migrants who had settled in many different countries around the globe.

While the formal structure was an initiative of the Italian Government it was not in itself the first structure providing services and caring for the Italian community. The reality in the early years of Italian immigration to Australia was a dynamic community, which took upon itself to meet the needs of the increasing waves of new immigrants from Italy.

These community organizations and structures had developed not only in Sydney but also in other centers in which Italian immigrants settled. The two most prominent of these were the Italo-Australian Welfare Association (IAWA), and the Associazione Cattolica San Francesco.

The establishment of Co.As.It. provided a valuable structure for the continuing provision of support to immigrants. The main welfare structure IAWA, known also as Centro di Assistenza Italiana, which had been operating since the 1950s decided to transfer both its function and assets to this new structure. This process acted to legitimize the role and function of Co.As.It. as the main welfare and education service provider to the community.

The same process of change was also true for the Italian language teaching. During the 1960's a number of Saturday Italian classes also existed in Sydney. They had been started independently by Italian religious orders such as the Capuchins and Scalabrinians and by individuals to preserve the Italian language among the children of Italian migrants. The pioneers of these classes were people such as Antonio Picone, in the Annandale area, Antonio Caputo in the Brookvale area, Felice Zadro in the Fairfield area, Alessandro Adorni Braccesi in the Illawarra area, Osvaldo Aliberti from the Blacktown area, Padre Atanasio from the Leichhardt area and Prof. Asher from the Inner City.

By 1968, when Co.As.It. started its activities, Italian was taught to about a thousand Italian children in different suburbs in Sydney.

As with the IAWA, the many co-ordinators of the Saturday Italian Classes saw it proper to entrust their work, the teaching of Italian to Co.As.It. By 1971, the Italian Government committed itself to contribute funding towards the preservation of the Italian language and culture among the children of migrants. As soon as it started, therefore, Co.As.It. had already quite definitive activities to carry out.

On the 13 August 1968, the minutes of the first meeting listed the following names: Honorary President: Dott. Guido Natali, Italian Consul General; President: Gastone Beghe'; Secretary: G. Marcelli; Treasurer: S. Sini; Councillors: Rev. Atanasio Gonelli; J. Calabro'; E. Clagnan; Avv. A. Di Stefano; Comm. G. Giuffre'; Rev. Nevio Capra.

The creation of Co.As.It. by the Italian Government offered two important advantages. Firstly, it provided the Italian community with an organization, which could be officially recognized by the Australian Government and secondly, by creating the various Co.As.It's around the world, the Italian Government also had committed itself to fund such Committees.

The assurance of funding from the Italian Government allowed Co.As.It. to programme its activities on a regular basis. The Australian Government could officially recognize Co.As.It.. This made it possible for the organization to apply for Government grants made available to ethnic and welfare organizations and to administer them properly. In fact, Co.As.It. was able to secure Grant-in-aid funds for two welfare workers immediately in 1968.

Incorporation

In the early eighties, Co.As.It.'s activities had expanded dramatically and it was decided to incorporate as an association limited by guarantee under the NSW Company Code. This was done on the 10 May, 1983. The signatories of the Memorandum were Gaetano Giuffre', Antonio D'Ambra, Jospeh Lo Blanco, Franco Belli, Nino Bove, Nicholas Destro, Alfio Di Stefano, Fr. Atanasio Gonelli, Fr. Adriano Pittarello, Anna Tesoriero, Peter Tesoriero. The witness to the signatures was Francesca Merenda.

On the 20 June 1984, the first elected Board of Directors were as follows: President: Avv. George Lapaine; Vice President: Fr. Adriano Pittarello; Treasurer: Mr. John De Bellis; Committee Members: Dr. Nicholas Destro, Miss Emanuela D'Urso, Mr. Giuseppe (Joe) Fin, Mrs. Nadia Lozzi-Cuthebertson, Ms. Francesca Merenda, Mr. Mario Paletto, Miss Angelina Tati, Mrs. Anna Tesoriero.

Subcommittees

To assist the Board of Directors Co.As.It. formed subcommittees.

The Welfare Subcommittee, would look after the community service activities programmes; the School Subcommittee (later renamed Education), to organize and expand the teaching of the Italian language; and the Social (often called Ladies) Subcommittee for the purpose of organizing fund raising activities to supplement the Italian and Australian Government grants.

The work of the subcommittees has proved to be perhaps the greatest asset of the organization. They supervise the activities within their fields of expertise and are often responsible for introducing new programmes. They also closely monitor the Australian and Italian Government policies and make recommendations to the Board of Directors.

Among those who served in the Welfare subcommittee a special mention must be made of Mrs. Tina Watson, who was its first convener and served for more than thirty years.

In the Education Subcommittee a special note is made of Mrs. Enoe Di Stefano. She was named secretary of the Education Subcommittee at the first election of Co.As.It. in 1968 (the convener was Prof. Stefano Rossi), and was its convener from 1971 until 1982. Members of her subcommittees were Mr. Antonio Picone, Mr. Antonio caputo, Mr. Sergio Ulivelli, Fr. Atanasio Gonelli, Mr. Joe Fin, Fr. Nevio Capra, Mr. Osvaldo Aliberti. In 1982 Joe Fin became the convener and held this position until 1988. The current convener is Mr. John De Bellis. The Italian Education Attache from the Italian Consulate - Signora Gabriella Bona, Dott.ssa. Valeria Mirisciotti, Dott. Antonio Mansueto, Dott.ssa. Roberta Pizzoli - have also played a key role in the development of the Co.As.It. Education Programme assisting the Subcommittee and Education Staff.

Today there are three subcommittees, Community Services, Education and Italian heritage.

Presidents

Mr. G. Beghe', the first president of Co.As.It. resigned during his term. In his stead was elected Mr. Gaetano (Tom) Giuffre'. Mr. Gaetano Giuffre' who had also been the President of AIWA remained President of Co.As.It. for 15 years.

The first years continued to provide difficult with funding not always certain. It was the task of the Committee to find the money to pay the salaries to its employees and to carry on its normal activities. On many occasions Co.As.It. had to borrow large amounts of money from the bank, and committee members such as Tom Giuffre' and Joe Fin offered personal warranty to the bank for loans for Co.As.It.

Tom Giuffre' was succeeded by George Lapaine who remained President of Co.As.It. for five years. In 1989 Dr. Leroy Certoma' was elected President and resigned soon after accepting a position as Full Time Member of the Immigration Review Tribunal. Dr. Certoma' has continued his association with the company since this time in the role of Co.As.It. Patron.

This period was followed by a number of short term presidencies including, Mr. Romano Di Donato, Ms. Francesca Merenda, and Father Adriano Pittarello.

In 1991 Mr. Joe Fin was elected president and held the position until 1998. Mr Fin has continued his position as a Co.As.It. Board of Director. Pino Migliorino was then elected as president in the 1999 Annual General Meeting and resigned in 2003 after twenty years of voluntary service to the organisation. Lorenzo Fazzini has followed as President from 2004 and continues to hold this position.