Why would a celebrity TV star wind up living in Northwest Philadelphia? "We love it here," Simonetta Lein says.
Why on earth would a celebrity TV star from Italy wind up living in Northwest Philadelphia? One can't help but ask that question of Simonetta Lein, who was born and raised in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Northern Italy.
In Italy, Lein was a very well-known TV personality, TV host, model and businesswoman. But her fame stretched beyond Italy: She won the Celebrity Media Personality & Influencer of 2022 Award at the Cannes Film Festival and won Dubai’s Golden Wings Award in May for TV Personality of the Year. She has modeled for famed designer Stevie Boi during New York Fashion Week and for Richie Rich at Madison Square Garden.
Lein was also a columnist for Vanity Fair Italy and served as a brand ambassador to several of Italy’s top luxury fashion, accessory and beauty brands. Her novel, “Everything Is Possible: A Novel About the Power of Dreams,” published by Sperling & Kupfer in 2013, was a best-seller.
Two years later, Lein and her husband, Raphael Amabile, left Milan and moved to East Falls.
“We sold everything we had and left,” Lein said. “Raphael is originally from North Jersey, and we wanted to be closer to his family, but when we looked around on the East Coast, we fell in love with Philadelphia. We love it here.” (Amabile is president of the Wish Wall Foundation, which Lein founded in 2015 to grant wishes to people in desperate need.)
In January 2020, Lien started a talk show on instagram, “The Simonetta Lein Show,” which is now finishing its 5th season and preparing for a sixth. Her guests have so far included A-list personalities such as Sean Penn, Robert Downey, Bob Saget, Jerry Springer, Candace Bergen, Kathy Ireland, Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran (billionaire “sharks” on the TV blockbuster, “Shark Tank”) and Don McLean, who sang “American Pie” on her show and got more than 20 million Instagram views.
“I try to bring realness. This is not about fame for me,” Lein told the Local in a recent interview. “My favorite guests were Bob Saget and Jerry Springer. They were class acts. Saget would always call afterward and ask how is our charity going and what could he do to help.”
Lein, whose parents are both doctors, has a fine arts degree and a counseling degree from Italy as well as an honorary doctorate from the Universita Tiberina Ponte Sicilia in Rome.
She is called the “celebrity wishmaker” because of her Wish Wall Foundation.
“All of my grandparents except one died of cancer,” she said. “I was 8 years old when my adored maternal grandmother left us with her last words to me, 'Ciao amore.' I witnessed a beautiful woman of only 72 years, who was not able to eat anymore as cancer ate her stomach. She had to be artificially fed and hydrated. She never lost her smile and her faith, though. I want to do all that I can in order to protect young women and share information so the next generation can be more knowledgeable and not feel alone.”
The website of Lein's Wish Wall Foundation provides a space for people from around the world to post their deepest wishes on its “Wish Wall.” The 501(c)(3) foundation then collaborates with other nonprofit groups to try to make some of the wishes come true, although it is nowhere as big as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and cannot fulfill all wishes.
“I know how to use social media tools for good,” Lein said. “This is my dream. My parents taught me to leave the world a better place than I found it. We can give money and do good. It is huge work.”
The foundation has helped many projects in Africa, including remodeling a library in Nigeria, providing jobs for local artisans and also working on a medical facility in Nigeria that they believe will hire 800 people. A literacy initiative has provided laptops, books, tablets and backpacks for hundreds of students in several African countries, and a project with a girls' school in Kenya will help provide dormitories, teachers, a remodeled lounge and more.
Lien’s nonprofit is also collaborating with World Merit, a global charity based in Liverpool, England, and has provided fertilizers to farmers in Africa and sewing machines to women. In the Philippines, they provided a well that produces water for indigenous villages whose residents previously had to travel long distances for water.
Closer to home, they have provided boxes of toiletries and other useful products to women at a Germantown shelter for abused women and blankets and toys for children at another in North Central Philadelphia. They purchased an EKG machine for a nurse in Tampa, Florida, who fixed up a bus and turned it into a mobile clinic for underserved communities.
“We are inundated with requests from all over the world,” Lein said. “I just wish we could fulfill them all.”
For more information and before-and-after photos, visit thewishwall.org. There are new episodes of Lein's interview show every Friday on Instagram, where you can also see all old episodes. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org