Casita Maria Fiesta 2022

Yvonna Russell
7 min readOct 13, 2022
Gabriela Pacheco, Jackie Weld Drake, Cesar Conde, Tony Bechara, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia

Imagine a glamorous high society gala where royalty, captains of industry and philanthropic swans rubbed shoulders with artists, IT girls, entrepreneurs and activists over cocktails, a seated dinner and dancing to a live band playing bachata music. The Fiesta! 2022 was all that.

George Corton, Moataz Refaie, Sissi Isabel Fleitas-Refaie, Eduardo Gonzalez Coro

Casita Maria Center For Arts and Education held the Fiesta! at the landmark Plaza Hotel on the evening of Tuesday, October, 11th in Manhattan. A triumph return for the annual gala to the New York social benefit whirl for the first time since 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mayra Hernandez Gonzalez, Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, Jackie Weld Drake, Tina Beriro, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia

Casita Maria Center For Arts and Education located in the country’s poorest Congressional District, the South Bronx started in 1938. The oldest New York charity Casita Maria has maintained a safe and welcoming community, enriching and uplifting Latino, Hispanic, and minority youth and families towards success, through shared cultural, art and educational experiences and programs.

Tony Bechara, Desiree la Valette
Consuelo Venderbilt Costin, Mary Snow

Casita Maria rose to the harshest challenges of the pandemic in the Hunts Point community of the Bronx. When schools and businesses were closed the charity offered grab and go meals courtesy of the NYC Department of Education available on weekdays to children and adults, No one was turned away, three meals could be picked up at one time with vegan or halal options and were available to all in need.

Mary Snow, Joachim Bader
Carlos Picon, Afsaneh Akhtari, Andrew Kepler

As the COVID-19 crisis ravaged outside, children and teens had to adapt to at home learning and confinement. Casita Maria stepped in with the Learning Bridges ( Puentes de Aprendizaje) program providing computers, internet and school supplies in a safe space to assist with hybrid learning and personal connection.

Jacqueline Weld Drake

Fiesta Chairman HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia and Casita Maria Board Chair and Fiesta Co-Chair Jacqueline Weld Drake welcomed the sexy and fun arrivals to the black tie event.

Jean Shafiroff, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia

First and foremost for The Beautiful People was cocktails, canapés and to strike a pose for the photo op. Over 300 guests the gathered in the ballroom for dinner with Dinner Chairs George Corton, Thomas C. Quick, Adriana Echavarria, and Sissi Isabel Fleitas-Refaie, Committee Members Geoffrey Bradfield, Michele Gerber Klein, Ann Nitze, and Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, Pachanga Chairs Victor Roquette and Sabrina Wirth, Pachanga Committee Members Cathy Aragon, Carlos Barraza, and Omar Hernandez, as well as Afsaneh Akhtari, Steven M.L. Aronson, Tina Beriro, Hunt Slonem, Martha Bograd, Geoffrey Bradfield, Estrellita and Daniel Brodsky, Sharon Bush Murray, Carlos Campos, Mark and Maxine Dalio, Jennifer Fischer, Will Hochman, William Haseltine and Maria Eugenia Maury, Lucia Hwong Gordon, BB Jean, William Ivey Long, Elizabeth Meigher, Carlos Picon, Martin and Jean Shafiroff, Stephanie Stokes, Desiree von la Valette, Lynne Wheat, Chris Wolf, and many more.

Tina Beriro, Carlos Picon, Stephanie Stokes
Joachim Bader, Mary Snow, Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin, Omar Hernandez, Guillermo Giammona

As guest tucked into the first course imported burrata and tomato confit with basil pesto and olive focaccia toast the program began. “It is a dream come true to be back here after these last few years,” respondent in purple Jackie Weld Drake took to the podium. Jackie continued, “We dedicate tonight to the memory of Anne Eisenhower who was on our board for 25 years, many of which she chaired Fiesta with me. We always wanted this to be the best party in New York!”

Maxine Dalio, Megan Drimal

The candlelight supper was grilled filet mignon, wild mushroom and red wine risotto and roasted baby Brussel sprouts. The meal was complemented by Merlot or Chardonnay, Sempre Dorato from Italy.

Jennifer Fischer, Geoffrey Bradfield, Shannon Fairbanks

The evening honored Latino excellence pioneers Modern Abstract artist Tony Bechara, Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group Cesar Conde and Immigration and DREAMers activist Gaby Pacheco.

Monika McLennan, Tony Bechara, Chus Bures, Sergio Orozco

Daniel Brodsky presented the Casita Maria Gold Medal of Honor to his great friend, Tony Bechara, and shared, “Born in San Juan, Tony is a successful, prolific, abstract artist who has been living and working in New York City for more than 40 years. Tony has had exhibitions in New York, Washington, Miami, San Juan, Lima, Mexico, and Munich. He has always devoted his time making available and encouraging art for all, especially Latin Americans and Latino artists.” Tony thanked the crowded ballroom, saying, “To be introduced by Dan Brodsky is already an honor. I want to thank Casita Maria because many, many years ago, more than 70 years ago, waves of compatriots of mine from Puerto Rico were arriving here in New York looking for a better life. New York being the beacon of hope. There was no one to help them. Casita Maria filled that void. They were the first to do it.”

Cesar Conde, Monica Gil, Emma Carrasco, Jorge Plasencia

Fiesta Dinner chair George Corton bestowed Cesar Conde with his Medal of Honor, “Cesar serves as Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, overseeing NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC. He is the first Hispanic to lead a major English-language broadcast news organization! As a leading voice towards representation and diversity in the newsroom, Cesar launched the 50% challenge initiative, which inspires newsrooms to be 50% women and 50% people of color!” Cesar accepted the honor and shared “As we all know, we are living during a very unique time in our history. During these challenging times, I’m a believer that character is defined and revealed. My parents always taught my brothers and I that the only thing in life that no one can ever take away from you is your education. The work that Casita Maria is doing in educating and empowering our youth is the work that is in crisis. To do it during such challenging times speaks to the character of this organization and to the character of everyone that collaborates with it.”

Sabrina Wirth, Victor Roquette, Robert Reus, Carlos Barraza

CEO of Republica Havas Jorge Plasencia introduced honoree Gaby Pacheco who’s “especially known for her work with Dreamers, children who were brought to the United States and grew up here without legal documentation.” said in an emotional speech shimmering like an angel in a glittery gown.

Maria Fishel, Gabriela Pacheco

Gaby said, “I shouldn’t be here. The laws tell me that even though this is the country that I love and this is my home, I shouldn’t be here. When I was a little girl and I came to the United States, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t have friends, and I was scared. Today I stand before you knowing that I have power, that my story matters, and that every single Latino child deserves the right to fulfill their dreams and their lives.”

Andrew Lister, Sophia Schrager
Maria Eugenia Maury, William Haseltine

After a decadent dessert of apple tartin with cinnamon whipped cream or chocolate cake redux it was time to get on the dance floor to the Latin beat of Bob Hardwick Sound.

Emma Carrasco, Dalila Wilson-Scott, Johnathan Cyprien

For decades, the annual Fiesta benefit has combined a fabulous party with social good, raising over 5 million dollars in the last ten years. These funds have enabled Casita Maria to continue its programming year after year.

The Plaza Hotel
Yvonna Russell

Writer. I cover the arts, good causes and style. Will work for coffee, wine and Manolo Blahniks.