Biden a surprise guest at Boston dinner

Attendees at the 24th annual New England Women’s Leadership Awards last month received a huge surprise in the form of a bona fide political superstar: former Vice President Joe Biden.

Benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester, the ceremony presented and honored Donna Gavin of the Boston Police, World Marathon Challenge winner Becca Pizzi, and pastry chef Joanne Chang. Mayor Martin J. Walsh was scheduled to make an appearance, but organizers were only informed minutes before his arrival that he would also be bringing Biden, with whom he’d just had dinner.

For Jocelyn Sammy, a 15-year-old student at TechBoston Academy who works at the Boys & Girls Clubs, Biden’s surprise visit was an emotional experience.

“I was so excited,” Sammy said. “Marty [Walsh] came out, but everyone sees Marty. Then we see Joe Biden, and everybody’s just screaming and clapping. I just started crying.”

Now in ninth grade, Sammy grew up with Biden and former President Barack Obama as some of the most prominent political figures in her life. She said she cried “tears of joy” for the officials who were elected when she was just in kindergarten.

Even though she was one of the awards ceremony’s organizers, Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester development coordinator Alex Ascioti was unaware of Biden’s drop-in until minutes before his arrival.

Ascioti said that with such short notice, it was a bit of a scramble to coordinate Walsh and Biden’s entrance. She praised the staff of the Seaport Hotel, where the event was held, for their efficiency and professionalism. The arrival of a politician usually calls for preparations well in advance, and they “had about five minutes to pull this all together,” Ascioti said.

“Personally, I was so excited to see the mayor, and I don’t want him to get overshadowed — I had never met him before,” Ascioti said. “I was just ready for that to happen, not knowing that he was bringing a special guest with him.”

Biden introduced himself to Ascioti and asked her about her role in the Boys & Girls Clubs and her past experience. After meeting him, Ascioti described him as “charismatic and genuine” and a “people person.”

Ascioti also expressed gratitude to Mayor Walsh for bringing about the opportunity for the children, volunteers, and other attendees to see Biden.

“He really is such a great supporter and the one who coordinated this whole thing,” Ascioti said.

Around 450 people, including around 60 children, attended the New England Women’s Leadership Awards. Designed to present role models for children and young women, it is one of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester’s major fundraising events.

“The stories that the ladies had were really inspiring. I woke up this morning and was like, ‘I need to aim higher,’” Sammy said.
“One of the ladies last night, when I heard her story — [Pizzi] ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. That was crazy. She was telling us that she never gave up; she kept pushing. She wanted to show her daughter that if you put your mind to anything, you can achieve it. That’s what I’ve been trying to do lately.”

Sammy’s interests are wide-ranging, from criminal justice and nursing to education and business. However, she is certain that in the future, she wants to have a mentor group for girls to foster sisterly relationships.

“Yesterday was so much fun,” Sammy said. “I really enjoy coming to the Boys & Girls Club. I’ve learned a lot from here.”