The Gismondi Excellence Award for excellence in health went to Hello Neighbor as part of the two-day Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Summit. Photo courtesy of Hello Neighbor.

Attorney John Gismondi for years has wanted to honor nonprofits that do inspiring, innovative work and put them in front of an audience of potential donors to support them. 

His vision came to fruition Thursday when the Gismondi Excellence Awards were presented to five organizations working to improve the lives of people who may be at risk for food insecurity, racial discrimination and other social challenges. 

The awards were handed out at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as part of the two-day Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Summit

The winners are: Black Political Empowerment Project, excellence in advocacy; Hello Neighbor, excellence in health; Trying Together, excellence in education; 412 Food Rescue, excellence in innovation; and JADA House International, excellence in inspiration.

Each received $5,000 from the Gismondi Family Foundation, a fund held at the Pittsburgh Foundation, a community philanthropy with assets of about $1.5 billion that include thousands of individual donor funds. 

Gismondi has a history as a philanthropist in the region through the separate Gismondi Foundation.

John Gismondi

He started that with his wife, Lisa, to fund initiatives in education, health care, social services and meeting basic needs such as food. 

That foundation has assets of $8.5 million, according to its 2022 federal tax filing. 

Gismondi, who grew up in Uniontown, earned his bachelor’s degree from Pitt in 1975 and graduated from Pitt’s law school in 1978. He has taught at the law school since 1985.

After a stint as a clerk for the late U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond, in 1981 Gismondi opened his own practice Downtown and built a career specializing in personal injury cases including multimillion dollar settlements for families of people who perished in the crash of USAir Flight 427 in 1994 in Beaver County. 

He’s motivated to give back to the community, Gismondi says, because “a lot of people are far less fortunate than I’ve been.” 

“I came out of law school with probably not a penny to my name,” he says. “I’ve been very, very lucky and had a great foundation provided by my parents. I know people face a lot of headwinds and if I’m in a position to help them, why would I not do that?”

Though his Gismondi Foundation has been channeling gifts to Pitt and elsewhere for years, the attorney says he created the Gismondi Excellence Awards to recognize specific organizations that make a strong impact by “serving an acute need” and “doing what they purport to do.” 

When he learned about the Nonprofit Summit, Gismondi approached officials about forging a partnership to collaborate and provide a venue for his awards.

Held every two years, the summit is sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership and The Forbes Funds, both affiliates of the Pittsburgh Foundation. 

412 Food Rescue won the Gismondi Excellence Award for excellence in innovation. Photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue.

The Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership says the summit is a forum for attendees to collaborate on addressing the region’s challenges including community health, equity and sustainable development. 

About 650 were expected at this year’s event, which includes panels, discussions and workshops featuring nonprofit leaders, foundation officials, and representatives from government, education and business.

The Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership is a coalition of 500-plus organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania and provides advocacy, education and public policy analysis for its members.  The Forbes Funds provide nonprofits in the region with management assistance and connect them with resources to better advance their missions. 

Last month, the Gismondi Foundation donated $750,0000 to the University of Pittsburgh to create the Gismondi Neighborhood Education Program, which will provide tutoring, enrichment programs and other support to children in the city’s Homewood, Hazelwood, Hill District and Oakland communities.

That gift expands Gismondi’s commitment to PittEnrich which started in 2019 at Pitt’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood with a $325,000 donation from the Gismondi Foundation. Pitt students are hired as tutors for the program, which includes in-school and Saturday sessions. 

“This new level of programming and the synergies created by the Gismondi Neighborhood Education Program will help to build long-term capacity and lasting change in our communities – and help the university provide experiential, hands-on learning to students who are ready to take on the challenges of the future,” Joan Gabel, Pitt’s chancellor, said in a statement announcing the Gismondi gift.

Joyce Gannon is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.