Casita Maria Takes over the Plaza Hotel for 2016 Gala

The Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education held their annual black-tie at the Plaza Hotel Ballroom on Tuesday October 18 with cocktails starting at 7:30 PM. It is so refreshing to have a dinner that doesn’t start at 5:30 and I have to thank the Spanish culture which enjoys late night revelry for that. The night’s honorees were President and CEO of Sprint Marcelo Claure, arts philanthropist Joanna Fisher, and interior designer Hutton Wilkinson. The dinner co-chairs were Jacqueline Weld Drake and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia.

Left to right Anna Garry, Geoffrey Bradfield & Pamela Fiori

In 1961 the organization moved from East Harlem to the South Bronx with programs including homeless services, drug rehabilitation and violence prevention. The current focus of the organization is on arts and education, as well as summer camps and internships with over 1,400 students attending. Former “Casita Kids” include Tito Puente, Dave Valentin and DJ Grandmaster Flash.

Christopher Mason and Mary McFadden

The night’s attendees included luminaries: Mary McFadden, William Ivey Long, Hamish Bowles, Amy Fine Collins, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, Hunt Slonem, Lady Liliana Cavendish, Mai Hallingby, and Jeff and Liz Peek. The Casita Maria Foundation was started in 1934 by Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan in order to give to the children of recently arrived Hispanic families the educational support necessary to thrive in the United States.

Joanna and Brian Fisher

I have been anxiously anticipating this dinner for months as one of my closest friends, Joanna Fisher, was being honored for supporting students in the arts including ballet, theater and music. Joanna and her real estate mogul husband, Brian, are the most welcoming and popular couple in the Hamptons, Chappaqua and the Upper East Side; hosting people in their beautiful homes with six course dinners and lavish entertainment.

honoree Joanna Fisher, Hamish Bowles and Amy Fine Collins.

Joanna is one of those people with a dynamism and charm so unique that she is oftentimes the center attraction at dinner parties and celebrations. Her effervescent personality and “tell it like it is” demeanor make her a rarity in the stiff, uptight social circles she travels in-she is one of a kind. Tonight Joanna was wearing a beautiful custom made pink Peter Hidalgo gown and spoke about how honored she was to support all these artists and watch their dreams come to fruition.

Alvaro Domingo, CEO of Sprint and honoree Marcelo Claure
and Dani Homedes

Another honoree, President and CEO of Sprint, Marcelo Claure, who after joining Sprint in 2014 produced one of the most iconic turnarounds, has movie star looks and basketball star height and said he was going to keep his speech short in the tradition of Casita Maria. Claure’s two big passions are education and Hispanic progress.

Left to right Brian and Joanna Fisher, Jacqueline Weld Drake
and honoree Hutton Wilkinson

Unfortunately, he pointed out that among the Hispanic community one-third had only one parent, they had the highest high school dropout rate out of any group, and 94% of them want to go to college but less than 8% make it.

Jacqueline Weld Drake and Jon Marder

He announced that Sprint recently made the largest corporate gift; giving away one million laptops for four years to cure the “homework gap”-where kids don’t have computers to complete their assignments. He said that even President Obama who never speaks positively about big companies lauded Sprint for this great contribution.

Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia

Another person who has greatly contributed to society, is costume designer William Ivey Long who has designed costumes for more than 74 Broadway shows and is currently working on the show “A Bronx Tale.”  Long has been nominated for 25 Tony Awards and won 6-remarking he did not have the “best batting average.” He reminisced about attending the Yale School of Drama with the incredibly talented Meryl Streep, with students at school using the expression “Streep” it up to describe owning the stage.

Julian and Lisa Nicollini

Long confided that after being in the business for 38 years one of his favorite memories was working as a gofer for Charles James when James lived in the Chelsea Hotel. Long described James as “one of the greatest artists” he has ever worked for, admiring his focus and uncompromising vision in things he believed in.

Heidi and Allen Roberts

There were so many philanthropists in the crowd who give their time to charitable causes and I had the privilege of meeting Heidi Roberts, who started a charity called US Friends of Hoedspruit Endangered Species, which rescues poached and orphaned elephants, rhinos and cheetahs. Heidi was resplendent in an off-white floral Oscar de la Renta gown and as an Oscar devotee was looking forward to seeing new designers, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia’s upcoming collection.

honoree and President of Sprint Corporation Marcelo Claure
and his daughter

After the dinner concluded, guests danced enthusiastically to the tunes of the Bob Hardwick Sound with Marcelo Claure ripping up the dance floor with his adorable young daughter. I went to review the silent auction which included topaz and diamond earrings, two first class tickets to anywhere in Europe and many other goodies.

Lieba Nesis of the DFR: Daily Fashion Report.

After deciding the items were over my budget, I returned to the dance floor and asked Marcelo Claure what he planned on accomplishing at Sprint. Marcelo replied, “I just want to kick the butt of Verizon, AT&T and T-mobile.” On that auspicious note, I headed home to recount the details of this exciting annual fiesta.

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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