At Cento Amici, education (and a Medal of Honor recipient) always are front and center

Annual scholarship dinner raises record $150,000, to be used for scholarships to help 58 students at 12 North Jersey schools

Like seemingly all Medal of Honor recipients, Col. Jack Jacobs is humble and unassuming. He’s funny, too.

That’s why, during a speech before scholarship winners last week at the 35th annual Cento Amici scholarship dinner and auction, Jacobs had everyone roaring with tales regarding his love of food, rather than seeking affirmation for his actions during the Vietnam War that make him a national hero.

But Jacobs, a longtime member of Cento Amici, turned serious when it came to discussing education, addressing both the scholarship winners — and those donating to the cause.

“Education is the only way we can ensure our future,” he told a group of nearly 200 at the Stone House in Sterling Ridge last Thursday night. “We need to do whatever we can, for as long as we can, to help ensure the success of the next generation.”

The education-is-everything theme continued through the addresses of the co-honorees: Keith Banks, vice chair and chief investment officer, pensions and benefits plans, at Bank of America, and Becky Quick, co-anchor of “Squawk Box” on CNBC.

Banks added an important wrinkle: hard work.

“I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of young people over the years through my work at Bank of America,” he said. “And, when I chat with young people, the question they often ask me is: ‘Is it really possible for me to do it? Can I really do some of the things I see other people do, from a success standpoint?’

“The perception is that, if you’re successful today, you have molded since Day One, put on a path to success and it was easy.

“I tell them, ‘That’s not who I am — and that’s not who most successful people are.’”

Banks, an Essex County kid through and through and a proud graduate of Rutgers University – Newark, where he worked his way through school, said achievement comes with effort.

“You have to work hard, you’ve got to grind though it,” he told the students. “You have to show up every day and outwork the next person. And, most of all, be ready.

How you can help

Cento Amici (100 Friends) is a community-based member organization that has been providing need-based scholarship assistance to qualified students in New Jersey since 1989.

Founder Bob Zito said: “Our mission is to enhance the educational opportunities for those who need it most and who are most underserved by existing need-based programs.”

This year’s event raised approximately $150,000. Between the scholarship gala, a golf outing and individual contributions, Cento Amici expects to raise a record $250,000 this year.

To learn more and to contribute, click here.

To read our Nonprofit Profile on the organization, click here.

“That’s why this scholarship money is so important. Education is the foundation that helped launch me ultimately in my career, and it will be so important to all of you.”

Quick, the daughter of a grade-school teacher and also a Rutgers graduate, could not have agreed more.

“My mom was not just an elementary school teacher, she was a great elementary school teacher,” she said. “She instilled in my three brothers and me just how exciting it is to learn from the time we were born. That education provides a huge advantage.”

Quick also noted that not everyone has the same advantages. She thanked Cento Amici and its donors for helping those who need an extra hand.

“The American Dream is not that we all have the same thing, it’s that we all have the same opportunity,” she said. “And you can’t have the same opportunity if you don’t have the same access to education.

“I believe very deeply in the work and the mission of Centi Amici, trying to make sure that all kids have access to a quality education.”

Banks said the greatest lesson of the evening came in the makeup of the room.

“I want to encourage the young people here today to look around the room, look how many people came to support you,” he said. “A lot of people care about you. You are our future.”

A future where roles eventually change, Banks said.

“Remember, when you get to that point in your life where you are successful, you need to find a way to give back,” he said. “We need you to support that next generation.”