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Education, Family Values Highlight Sons of Italy Foundation®'s NELA Gala

President Clinton, Mario Andretti, Connie Stevens, Tommy Lasorda, Vic Damone
among distinguished guests and honorees

Contact: Diane E. Crespy, (202) 547-2900

Washington, D.C., May 25, 2000 – Nearly 700 corporate CEOs, nonprofit officials, congressmen, dignitaries, celebrities, members of the Italian-American community, the top Italian-American students in the country, and other guests gathered at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., to celebrate education, family values, and the achievements of Italian Americans at the Sons of Italy Foundation®'s (SIF) 12th Annual National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala on May 25, 2000.

"The NELA Gala is about scholastic achievement, professional accomplishment, and great generosity, and I am proud to witness the level of support for these causes grow through the years," said SIF President Paul S. Polo. "I was particularly proud to look out over the gala audience and know that they chose the Sons of Italy Foundation® to lead them in these endeavors."

Proceeds from the gala benefit various educational, health and medical charities, cultural preservation, disaster relief, and other special projects, to which the SIF has contributed more than $67 million since its inception in 1959.

The top 12 Italian-American students throughout the country were honored at the gala and awarded nearly $80,000 in scholarships by the SIF, including a special $15,000 scholarship underwritten by model and actress Kathy Ireland and her entertainment group. Carolyn Beata, Bryan Cory, Augusto Cigliano, James Fiorelli, Gina Guarienti, Alexander Liloia, Mary Fabrizio Murphy, Anthony Orlandi, Michelle Palmisano, Adrienne Perfilio, James Valpiani, and Christopher Vigorito also had the opportunity to meet President Bill Clinton.

Racing Legend Mario Andretti was honored with the SIF's most prestigious award, the National Education & Leadership Award. Kmart President and General Merchandise Manager Andy Giancamilli, last year's NELA recipient, introduced Andretti saying, "Mario embodies the very best of our Italian-American community. He's a hero to many, a leader in his family and professional lives, and a devoted friend to many."

Andretti is a champion in business and philanthropy, as well as on the race track. He has numerous business ventures, including the Andretti Winery in Napa Valley, Calif., and donates much of his energy and time to various philanthropic causes including Paul Newman's "Hole in the Wall Gang" Camp.

He accepted the award, paying tribute to his parents who he credited with paving the way for him. "I learned to have the courage and self-confidence to accept the challenge…I've learned that it's important for every citizen to give back," he told the audience.

Past recipients of the National Education & Leadership Award include Giancamilli, former General Motors executive Phil Guarascio; former Ambassador to Italy and Chairman of Universal Forest Products Peter F. Secchia; Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno; former Northwest Airlines Co-chairman Alfred Checchi, retired Chairman, President and CEO of Kmart Corporation and current President of JEA Enterprises Joseph E. Antonini; FBI Director Louis J. Freeh; entertainer Annette Funicello; Director, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at The National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci; The Honorable Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court Justice; The Honorable Silvio O. Conte, the late congressman from Massachusetts; and retired St. John's University head basketball coach Lou Carnesecca.

Actress and singer Connie Stevens received the 4th Annual Humanitarian Award, presented by stage and screen actor and Sons of Italy Foundation® spokesperson Tony Lo Bianco.

"She has made a lifelong commitment to making the world a better place, and that it truly is, thanks to her undying compassion.," Lo Bianco said. Stevens has made a name for herself in the philanthropic community for the work she has done with Project Windfeather, the CES/Dignity of Jackson Hole, the U.S.O., the National Guard's Youth Challenge program, and Child Help USA.

Stevens spoke about how proud her family -- parents, grandparents, siblings - would be if they were there. Of her receiving the Humanitarian Award she remarked, "This, to them, would be better than the Academy Award…the Sons of Italy®!"

Past Humanitarian Award recipients include Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Tommy Lasorda.

In his third appearance in a row at the SIF's largest and most important fundraising and public affairs event, President Clinton took the opportunity to thank the Italian-American community and the Sons of Italy Foundation® for all they've done to further education and decrease prejudice and discrimination while still celebrating diversity.

"I want to thank you for what you do for young people every year," the president told gala attendees. "I want to also thank the Italian-American community for the contributions that so many millions have made to the progress of America these last seven and a half years - to the economic progress, the social progress, bringing the values of immigrants, of hard work, faith and family, to the forefront of America, and bringing us together … The whole history of Italian Americans is the history of a people who overcame obstacles, strengthened their families, made sacrifices today for the benefit of tomorrow."

Though not on the ballot this election year, President Clinton took advantage of his final opportunity to address the attendees as president, and urged voters to "be Italian this election year. Think about family; think about work; think about the future; think about your grandchildren and give it all you've got."

Los Angeles Dodgers Vice President Tommy Lasorda was on-hand to emcee the event, and crooner Vic Damone paid tribute to Frank Sinatra in his final performance before the start of his retirement tour, which began on May 27. Tenor Michael Amante performed "Nessun Dorma" and " Time To Say Goodbye," receiving a standing ovation from the gala audience Other special guests included actress Cindy Williams, who led the audience in congratulating the scholarship winners, actresses Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher, and fitness guru Denise Austin.

The National Education and Leadership Awards Gala regularly attracts corporate and nonprofit CEOs; members of congress; cabinet members; dignitaries; leading entertainment personalities such as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra Jr., Annette Funicello, Fred Travelena, Isaac Hayes, and emcees Regis Philbin and Larry King; and members of the Italian-American community.

Foremost in the SIF=s charitable efforts is its National Leadership Grant Competition (NLGC). The SIF and its state and local affiliates have awarded more than $31 million in scholarships since 1968. The SIF has contributed an additional $36 million to other philanthropic causes, including the Alzheimer=s Association, the Cooley=s Anemia Foundation, the SLE (Lupus) Foundation, Inc., the Children=s Inn at NIH, the March of Dimes, the Garibaldi Meucci Museum, earthquake relief in Assisi and Mexico, and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

For more information on the Sons of Italy Foundation® and its programs, contact Special Projects Manager Alison M. Torrillo at 202-547-3833 or, or visit