Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Banquet Features Former Colombo Captain Franzese

NYPD mugshot of John FranzeseImage via WikipediaThe theme for this year’s James Valley Youth For Christ “Report to the People” Banquet is transformation and features a former Mafia boss, Michael Franzese.

Transformed into a dedicated Christian man, Franzese shares his story to help people make positive changes in their lives. He has spoken throughout the country, been on countless television shows and written two books.

“The Youth For Christ chapter in Minot has had him twice,” said Troy Gunderson, James Valley Youth For Christ director. “They were very impressed with him. He has a fascinating story.”

Franzese grew up within New York’s violent and feared Colombo crime family. He joined the ranks and at age 35 was listed in “Fortune Magazine” as No. 18 of the Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.

“He made millions of dollars a month in illegal gas schemes,” Gunderson said.

Franzese’s presentations are open and honest, according to Gunderson. And his personal experiences in organized crime along with his anti-crime message are eye-opening revelations, he said.

“He will be really good. People will enjoy hearing his story of transformation,” Gunderson said.

This year, the banquet, which is YFC’s major fundraiser, is being held Thursday, Oct. 28, instead of the usual Monday, Gunderson said. However, the time, 6:30 p.m., and the place, Jamestown Civic Center, remain the same.

Last year, the banquet raised $57,000. And while Gunderson said that’s good, 2008 was much better. That year included matching funds, which increased the total raised to around $80,000. He is working on funds to match donations by those attending the banquet this year. But it hasn’t been easy.

“There’s a lot of other fundraising going on in the community,” he said. “They’re all good causes, but that has hurt us. I’m trying to get $40,000 in matching funds. Some people are willing to give more if there’s a match, but we need people on the front side. If anyone is interested they can call me at 252-5501.”

The YFC student drop-in center, Teen City, has been so successful and busy, another staff member was needed. The third and newest member of the staff will be introduced at the banquet. However, Gunderson said, sustaining that position will be a challenge without more support.

“One of my overall goals is to generate enough to keep that third person,” he said. “Now we can rotate one person out of the center to go do more one-on-one ministry. It was too hard with so many students. We really needed and wanted another staff person.”

The center averages between 30 and 40 students a day, four days a week. However, part of the YFC ministry is also to be where the students are, Gunderson said, and that means another staff member.

“But we obviously need good fundraising to accomplish that,” he said.

Businesses, churches and individuals sponsor banquet tables for 8 at $200. Gunderson would like to see 90 tables sold. Generally, attendance at the banquet is between 500 and 600 people.

“We’re under 80 (tables) at this point and I would love to sell a few more,” he said.

Still, if people in the community would like to attend, the YFC center has tickets available at no cost. Those who purchase tables often return the tickets to YFC to give away.

“We have tickets, but people who want to attend need to contact us by Monday at 252-5501. We need to have our catering number by then,” he said. “If people want to be at the banquet, we’ll make sure they’re there, with or without a ticket, but we still need to know the count.”

Funds are raised with sponsors to the banquet, plus a funds appeal and cash offerings at the banquet. People can also pledge a monthly sum automatically withdrawn from their bank account. Gunderson prefers that method as it provides a steady stream of funding each month.

Despite the other fund-raising efforts in James-town, Gunderson hopes people will generously support Youth For Christ.

“We have been blessed and we’re going forward on faith,” he said. “God has been so good to us.”

Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at tonip@jamestownsun.com

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