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Black Tie International:
Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education celebrated Fiesta 2017
Jacqueline Weld Drake and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia. Carolina Herrera, Jacqueline Weld Drake and Reinaldo Herrera. Photo by:  Annie Watt
Jacqueline Weld Drake and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia. Carolina Herrera,
 Jacqueline Weld Drake and Reinaldo Herrera.
Photo by:  Annie Watt
Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education celebrated Fiesta 2017 on Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 at New York’s Plaza Hotel. Each year at Fiesta, the Casita Maria Gold Medal of Honor is awarded to outstanding individuals in recognition of their contribution to the worlds of arts, education, and philanthropy.

This year, Casita Maria honored three exceptional women: Rosaura Henkel, the Mexican philanthropist extraordinaire for her work with “Duerme Tranquilo” and service to numerous hospitals; New York’s own Elizabeth T. Peabody for her dedication to mental health and compassionate leadership to The Maria Droste Counseling Services, and Julia Salvi, the co-founder and visionary behind the renowned Cartagena International Music Festival.

The evening’s host was FOX TV’s Audrey Puente, the daughter of the great
Latin percussionist Tito Puente, himself a Casita alumnus and former honoree.
The Dinner Chairmen were Jacqueline Weld Drake and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia. The Gala Co-Chairmen were designer Carolina Herrera and husband Reinaldo Herrera.

Casita Maria’s annual benefit was an elegant, festive evening that commenced with cocktails, followed by seated dinner, music and dancing to The Bob Hardwick Sound. Guests included Veronica Anner, Tina Beriro & Simon Beriro, Geoffrey Bradfield, Craig Dix, Sissi Fleitas, Joanna Fisher & Bryan Fisher, Dr. and Mrs. Duane Hampton, William Haseltine, Julie Juarez, Roy Kean, Margo Langenberg, Ed Lavano, Mary McFadden, Haydee Morales (Executive Director of Casita Maria), Mary McFadden, Jose Parla, Ann Rapp, Ben RodriguezCubenas, Christine Schwarzman, Pepita Serrano, Martin & Jean Shafiroff, Hunt Slonem, Barbara & Donald Tober, and Barbara & Bruce Winston.

 Dinner Chairman Jacqueline Weld Drake exclaimed, “Another celebration of Latino life in New York with its spontaneity, its enthusiasm, and its boundless ability to support the arts and the community.” Haydee Morales, Executive Director of Casita Maria, declared, “Casita Maria stands as a beacon of light and a place for individuals and families to find support.” “I am the daughter of Latin jazz great Tito Puente,” explained Program Host Audrey Puente, a meteorologist on FOX 5 news WNYW-TV. “My father was a Casita kid and so it’s really meaningful to come here and join you to celebrate tonight.” Ms. Weld Drake proceeded to award Elizabeth Peabody with the Gold Medal. “I thank you all at Casita Maria for this wonderful honor. I am very touched,” said Ms. Peabody. “By bringing children and families together in the community, Casita Maria helps them follow their dreams, increase their self-esteem, and aspire to attend college and work careers.” Ms. Weld Drake then bestowed the Gold Medal to Julia Salvi. “Today, we can build a better world, more compassionate, more inclusive, for future generations. Thank you,” Ms. Salvi remarked. Pepita Serrano of Hola said, “I thank you. It means a lot to Mexico. It means a lot to the world.” She then presented the Gold Medal to Rosaura Henkel, who thanked everyone in Spanish.

The Fiesta journal included letters from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; Senator Charles E. Schumer; Mayor Bill de Blasio; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.; 85th District Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo; New York City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr., and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Honorary Chairs were Violaine and John Bernbach and Pepita Serrano. Fiesta Vice Chairs included Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky, Catholic Charities of New York, Rebecca and Miguel Fuentes, Jr., Michèle Gerber Klein, Pierre Levai, Marcia Levine, and Annabelle & Alberto Mariaca. Fiesta Co-Chairmen were Tony Bechara, Marifé Hernández and Joel Bell, Ann B. Remos, Benigno Rodriguez-Cubenás, Yolanda Santos De Garza, and Adrienne and Gigi Vittadini. Pachanga Chairs included Carolina Alverez – Mathies, Peter Levin, Alexandre Leviant and Gabriel Rivera-Barraza.

ABOUT THE CASITA MARIA CENTER FOR ARTS & EDUCATION: The mission of the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities. Casita Maria was founded in 1934 by Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan, two schoolteachers in the living room of their apartment. Their goal was to give the children of recently arrived Latino families the support they needed to meet the challenges of a new language and a novel school system. The hope was that the young would thrive in their new homeland and lead their parents and their community to full participation in the American Dream.

By developing innovative responses and programs as issues arose, relocating to the South Bronx as its community moved around the city, Casita has been able to effectively serve each new generation. By 1961, Casita was offering programs and essential services to thousands of New Yorkers. Even when the Bronx “burned” in the 1970's, Casita remained a safe haven and a gateway to opportunity. Today, Casita Maria is an institution, a driving force for scholastic enrichment through its vital after school and educational programs that focus on the arts and technology. 

Gerard Mc Keon and Joyce Brooks.  Photo by:  Rose Billings/

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