The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) is a not-for-profit organization founded by William D. Fugazy, Sr. in 1984 with a mission to celebrate the diversity of the American people and to raise awareness and funds for the restoration and maintenance of Ellis Island. Since its founding, NECO's mission has grown to include the sponsorship of humanitarian and educational initiatives.
In 1982 it was announced that the Statue of Liberty was in need of considerable restoration. In May of that year, President Ronald Reagan asked Lee Iacocca to head the newly formed Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Centennial Commission. The commission's purpose was to promote and raise funds for the restoration through it's fundraising arm, The Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., and to oversee Liberty Weekend, a gala celebration of the restoration and centennial of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, New York. It began on Thursday, July 3 and ended on Sunday, July 6, 1986.
Liberty Weekend was an elaborate celebration produced by David L. Wolper, who had previously produced the 1984 Olympics. As part of the festivities, President Reagan awarded the Medal of Liberty to a select group of high-profile, naturalized Americans, among them Bob Hope and I.M. Pei. Many people, including New York City mayor Ed Koch, saw this as unrepresentative of the nation's rich and diverse immigrant experience, particularly in the exclusion of Italian-American and Asian-American citizens.
The Ellis Island Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1986 on Ellis Island. Unlike the Medal of Liberty, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is awarded to 100 individuals each year.
NECO Timeline 1986 - 2013
In 1986, the first Ellis Island Medal of Honor ceremony was held on Ellis Island.
In 1995, at the request of the City of New York, NECO was designated the exclusive organizer of the United Nations 50th Anniversary Parade.
NECO honored James Byrd Jr., an African-American man who was brutally murdered by racial supremacists in 1998, by partnering with the James Byrd Jr. Foundation for Racial Healing to create two scholarships for high school students. NECO was honored to donate Mr. Byrd’s headstone at the request of the Byrd family.
In 1999, NECO was appointed by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to the Immigration Coalition to help in the fight against race crimes and anti-immigrant sentiments across the US.
On October 11, 2000, Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient Col. William S. McArthur carried the Medal into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
NECO partners with the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame to celebrate diversity in sports. NECO sponsors the A Level Playing Field program which promotes youth sportsmanship and fairness for children of all races, ethnicities and genders.
NECO underwrites the creation of ‘Angels of Courage’, silver lapel pins created to honor and raise funds for the families of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The silver used in the pins was recovered from the World Trade Center site and made available to NECO through the generosity of Scotia Bank in tribute to the police officers, firefighters and EMS workers who gave their lives in the attacks.
NECO was proud to be the official organizers of a highly successful benefit honoring Mayor Rudolf Giuliani in gratitude for his leadership during and after the 9/11 attacks. All funds raised during this event benefitted the Twin Towers Fund and the Forum Children’s Foundation.
NECO organized the Interfaith Service of Prayer for Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients and their families. Clergy and representatives from the city’s diverse religious traditions joined to read prayers and sacred texts in the spirit of national unity though diversity.
NECO partners with Gift of Life international (GOLI) to bring life-saving cardiac care to children in need through the Our Hearts are in Uganda and Our Hearts are in El Salvador programs. Since NECO become involved with this program, over 200 children have received necessary heart surgeries and hundreds of others have received basic medical care.
In 2010, NECO responded to the Haitian Earthquake disaster quickly. Over $80,000 was raised by NECO and its friends. Partnering with New Yorkers for Haiti, an ad-hoc advocacy group administered through the Manhattan Borough Presidents office, the money was available for relief efforts on the island within three days after the last tremor.
In 2011, NECO hosted His Excellency Serge Sargysen with a tour of Ellis Island and a reception for the President and dignitaries of the US-Armenian community.
In October of 2011, The Flag of Faces exhibit opened at the Ellis Island Museum. The exhibit was developed and produced by The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation and was made possible, in part, by the generosity of NECO and its Medalists.
In 2012, NECO has underwritten the publication “Citizenship: What Every American Needs to Know” and “Hey Kids, America Need’s Us!” two books on civic responsibility written for new Americans and grade-school readers, respectively.
NECO is committed to the ongoing restoration of Ellis Island as a living tribute to the courage and hope of all immigrants who have built America. Through the generosity of its member organizations, NECO raised over 1 million dollars during the refurbishment of Ellis Island for its Immigrant Wall of Honor, a moving landmark that lists the names of nearly 200,000 immigrants to the U.S.
NECO proudly underwrote the construction of the stone monuments located at the entrance to the museum of Ellis Island. Each year, major benefactors are gratefully acknowledged by inscribing their names on the monuments’ bronze plaque.
In 2012, NECO quickly responded after Hurricane Sandy left areas of the tri-state region destroyed. In partnership with The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, NECO, through the generosity of its Medalists, raised a substantial sum to assist those displaced or in need of basic necessities.