American-Italian community outreach group to relaunch at Aviano
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – A group of servicemembers, dependents, civilians and Italians have brought back an all-volunteer program to help acquaint incoming Americans with dozens of local communities surrounding the base.
Called Vicini Americani, Italian for “American neighbors,” the program relaunched Friday during the “Spring into Spring” festival at the base’s Freedom Park.
“Some of the program’s goals are to foster friendship and cooperation amongst U.S. [personnel] and Italians living as neighbors in the surrounding communities,” said Wesley Yancey, a community support coordinator at the 31st Fighter Wing.
Originally started in 2012 by Maj. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, wing commander at the time, the program “fizzled away” soon after he left Italy, Yancey said. It now has the support of Brig. Gen. Daniel T. Lasica, the current wing commander, he said.
“Additional goals of the program include promoting community events such as festivals, exhibitions and theater productions,” Yancey said.
Americans will also learn about local history through cultural events and other activities.
The program will be made up of both American and Italian community members who will work to encourage other Americans to embrace their local communities, Pordenone province and the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region.
The intent is “to help orient newly arrived Aviano team members” and establish “effective, ongoing relationships between the communities and the base,” said Master Sgt. Corina Cruceanu, one of the Vicini Americani program managers.
It can be a challenge to move to a new base, let alone a whole different country where the language and culture is different from home. In-processing briefs and tours can’t address all the issues new arrivals may face. To help boost awareness of Vicini Americani, Tech. Sgt. Lindsay Dunlap volunteered to run the program’s social media accounts.
“My goal is to build a good social media presence so that in a year or two, this program becomes the source of information people go to first,” Dunlap said.
Local resources can be helpful, but some airmen and their families may not be taking the fullest advantage of them, said Alessandro Valenti, honorary commander of the wing’s dental squadron.
“I have been an expat myself for many years and I know how difficult it is to live abroad without the help of the local community,” he said. Without local advice, the Americans could miss out on many “good opportunities a life in Italy could give.”
For example, their Italian neighbors could help them get to know local tastes and traditions — such as food, seasonal “feste” and activities — assist couples with finding off-base schools for children, offer travel recommendations or advise them on cooking and groceries.
“As I said, as a former expat myself, I feel the responsibility to help these young Americans,” Valenti said.