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The Sons of Italy® Honors Vice President Joseph Biden

Washington, DC – May 29, 2009 The Sons of Italy Foundation® (SIF) presented its highest honor to U.S. Vice President Joseph R. Biden during its 21st annual National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) gala in Washington, D.C. on May 28. Biden is the first person not of Italian heritage to be so honored.

The SIF is the philanthropic arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization for men and women of Italian heritage in the United States. Since its founding in 1959, the SIF has donated more than $105 million to education, medical research, cultural preservation, disaster relief and other special projects. SIF marked its golden anniversary at this year's dinner. Its highest honor, the "NELA" is given to men and women who have excelled in their field and made notable contributions to the United States.

In accepting his "NELA," Mr. Biden thanked the Sons of Italy® for "one of the finest honors" of his career. He said the award is especially meaningful to him because it puts him in "the illustrious company of past NELA honorees," who include the poet Dana Gioia, the scientists Anthony Fauci and Robert Gallo, football legend Joe Paterno, entertainer Annette Funicello and the U.S. Supreme Court's Antonin Scalia.

"But on a more personal level, this award means so much to me because, although I am Irish, I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Claymore, Delaware. All my friends were Italian Americans and when I first ran for public office; my constituents and supporters were, also. So I am proud to be ‘in your neighborhood' that nurtured me and made me what I am." Accompanying Mr. Biden last night was his wife, Jill, whose maiden name, Jacobs, was changed from "Giacoppa" and is of Sicilian origin.

The other three honorees were NELA were Mary Ann Esposito, creator and host of Public Television's Ciao Italia; the Hon. Arthur J. Gajarsa, federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals and Robert A. Scardelletti international president of the Transportation-Communications Union/International Association of Machinists.

The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was actor Joe Mantegna. Singers Giada Valenti and Michael Amante provided entertainment. For a third year the gala included a silent-to-live auction featuring trips to Italy, imported Italian specialty items and tickets to sports and entertainment events. The gala opened with a Celebrity Chef Expo Reception featuring hors d'oeuvres from eight leading restaurants in Washington and New York, including Galileo's and Caf? Milano.

Among the 800 guests were prominent leaders from government, business, academia, sports and entertainment, including Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina, AIDS researcher Anthony Fauci, labor leader John Sweeney, former Congresswoman Connie Morella and "Criminal Minds" television star Thomas Gibson.

Established in 1905, OSIA has 700,000 members and supporters and a network of more than 745 chapters coast to coast. It works at the community, national and international levels to promote the heritage and culture of an est imated 26 million Italian Americans, the nation's fifth largest ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To learn more, visit OSIA on the Web at www.osia.org