When an individual is passionate about a certain subject they will jump over as many hurdles as they can to be able to keep their passion alive.

For Ahwatukee resident JoAnn Richi her driving factor lied in one area: honing her skills on speaking Italian.

For many years Richi has shown interest in learning how to speak Italian fluently, dating back to when she was 3 years old living with her aunt who spoke the language.

As years passed Richi consistently tried to hone her skill set, but there was one problem keeping her in a standstill: her back.

Throughout her life Richi has had back problems, a condition she inherited from her father, and one day she decided to have an MRI to see what was going on.

The doctors informed her that four of her discs were ruptured.

Richi underwent extensive back surgery in her lumbar region leaving her unable to do normal activities, resulting in her not leaving home as much as she would want to.

“I pretty much have to maneuver around on how I feel from one day to the next,” Richi said.

She thought of taking a few Italian courses at the local community college, but felt her back surgery would prevent her from going.

“I probably wouldn’t finish it because there would be nights that I would be in pain,” Richi said.

Instead of throwing in the towel Richi decided to contact Davide Valenti, Ahwatukee resident and Italian instructor, about the idea of teaching evening classes at her home.

The two met over coffee one day, and Valenti was all for the idea under one condition: there has to be a minimum of 10 students in each class.

Richi was able to round up students for the Italian classes, and since summer she has been hosting classes in her living room from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

“We have an introductory class on Tuesday night, and have a more advance class on Thursday nights,” she said. “I sit in on both of them so I’m flooded with Italian … it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Richi enjoys hosting these types of classes in her home because when her back starts acting up she excuses herself to her bedroom, just a few steps away.

Having the opportunity to learn Italian at her home is one thing, but building friendships is another aspect Richi cherishes and holds dear to her heart.

Valenti, who has a master’s degree in Italian, has taught Italian in Arizona since 2000 at Arizona State and different community college institutes.

The Italian classes he teaches at Richi’s home are done in an informal setting, which he enjoys because there is no added pressure on students and he doesn’t get hounded by students about their grades.

However, he tries to keep some structure in the class by giving out homework assignments.

“Everyone who’s here wants to learn. They don’t need to fulfill a foreign language requirement, or they don’t need elective credit to use towards their degree,” Valenti said. “Students are generally here because they want to be.”

Students also bring assortments of finger foods and pop open bottles of vino to liven up the evening classes.

Jane Rasor, who attends the advance class, says she loves the fact the classes are done in an informal setting.

“It’s better for my brain than crossword puzzles,” she said.

Rasor first heard about the classes during a Saturday morning “meet up” in East Mesa, where Richi gave her a brief background about the class.

Rasor, who is of Italian decent, believes by taking these courses she can keep a certain connection to her Italian roots.

“It reinforces what we’ve learned,” Rasor said.

The next rounds of Italian classes will be coming up soon with the intermediate classes Sept. 26-Dec. 12, and advance classes Sept. 24-Nov. 26.

For additional information about the classes and how to register, contact Richi at (602) 578-9766.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dochoa@ahwatukee.com.

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