Power Players: Miami’s Most Philanthropic Women

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In this issue’s power players feature, we highlight women of substance in Miami who excel in the philanthropic field. Here’s a look at what the city’s most giving women have to say about their history with philanthropy, causes they hold near to their hearts, favorite charity events and more.

CHRISTY MARTIN

Christy MartinPhoto Credit: Christy Martin

When did your philanthropic work begin?

 When I had my son, I became a stay-at-home mom, so it allowed me to have the time to fully commit to charities and nonprofits and participate as I had always dreamed about.

What are some causes that you feel the closest connection to?                      

There are three main organizations that I work closely with: The American Cancer Society raises funds for patients that can’t necessarily afford treatments; Miami Children’s Museum offers great programs and schooling for low-income families; and Vizcaya is part of Miami’s history as a city, so it’s important that we work as a community to preserve it.

How have you worked to help these causes?

Collectively, we’ve raised millions of dollars to educate people about Vizcaya, provide resources for The American Cancer Society’s research and make funds available for Miami Children’s Museum programs.

Christy Martin, Barbara Hevia, Swanee DiMare, & Joel Hoffman
Christy Martin, Barbara Hevia, Swanee DiMare, & Joel Hoffmanm at Vizcaya Luncheon

Photo Credit: Vizcaya

What is your favorite philanthropic event in Miami?

I am chairing the Vizcaya hat luncheon in March 2018. Proceeds from the luncheon support the preservation of Vizcaya and the organization’s educational programs.

 Who are other women of substance that have had great influence over you?

I’d have to say that Swanee DiMare, Lydia Touzet and Barbara Hevia inspire me because they are everything you want to be as a woman. They all have busy schedules, however they find the time to participate in philanthropy and teach their children how important it is to give back to the community.

What is your favorite memory you have from working on one of your philanthropic projects?

 The American Cancer Society hosts a summer camp named R.O.C.K. Camp, where children with cancer participate in a two-week sleepaway camp and they can experience being children, while having doctors and nurses on site to continue their treatment. To see these kids being able to enjoy their precious youth firsthand is s an experience like none other.


YOLANDA BERKOWITZ

Yolanda Berkowitz
Yolanda Berkowitz

Photo Credit: Yolanda Berkowitz

When did your philanthropic work begin?

In 1995, when I became a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, advocating for abused kids in court.

What are some causes that you feel the closest connection to? 

My work with United Way, which supports so many in our community and my work with Friends of Miami Animals Foundation, the nonprofit I founded to help homeless pets in Miami-Dade County and our open-admission shelter.

How have you worked to help these causes? 

I personally work with high-risk pets at our shelter and founded a nonprofit to raise funds and awareness of the extraordinary needs in our community; through the GAL Program, I have been able to work directly with kids in foster care and aging out of the foster care system to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed and thrive; and through United Way as a member of the board and executive committee to serve as a steward in helping create a stronger Miami make it a better place for everyone in our community.

Yolanda BerkowitzPhoto Credit: Yolanda Berkowitz

What is your favorite philanthropic event in Miami? 

Miami Children’s Museum’s Be a Kid Again Gala is one of the most fun and inspired events of the social season.

Who are other women of substance that have had great influence over you? 

Swanee DiMare, whose commitment to philanthropy in our community is far-reaching and extensive, and Sandy Batchelor, whose family foundation works tirelessly and quietly to improve quality of life for people and animals, alike.

What is your favorite memory you have from working on one of your philanthropic projects? 

Having a young woman who Voices For Children worked with receive a full scholarship to Georgetown Law School; the young woman, who for a number of years was forced to work in the sex industry, yet found a way to overcome her difficult and impoverished background to get herself into college and to receive a full scholarship for law school from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country.


STEPHANIE SAYFIE AAGAARD

Stephanie Sayfie Aagaard Color Photo for Head shot_CROP (002)Photo Credit: Stephanie Sayfie Aagaard

When did your philanthropic work begin? 

I grew up with truly the most spectacular parents [Dr. Gene Sayfie and Suzie Sayfie] who taught myself as well as my three sisters the importance of giving back. We were taught the greatest gift of all is to give of yourself, so we began volunteering our time and helping different charitable organizations as young girls in school. We did everything from organizing and hosting dog shows to raise funds for events, to garnering awareness for medical relief.

What are some causes that you feel the closest connection to? 

The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

How have you worked to help these causes? 

I co-chaired Destination Fashion with honorary chairs Tommy Lee Jones, Christian and Brittany Slater, and Gloria and Emilio Estefan at Bal Harbour Shops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Shops as well as the 30th anniversary of The Miami Project. The star-studded event, emceed by NBC “Today” Show’s co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, featured a concert by Pitbull, a Brunello Cucinelli fashion show, a runway walk by the evening’s honorees escorted by a celebrity and a progressive party throughout the mall, which closed its doors to the public for this high-profile benefit for The Buoniconti Fund.

Stephanie Sayfie Aagaard and Enrique Iglesisas at Destination Fashion at Bal Harbour Shops
Stephanie Sayfie Aagaard and Enrique Iglesisas at Destination Fashion at Bal Harbour Shops

Photo Credit: Destination Fashion

What is your favorite philanthropic event in Miami? 

Destination Fashion to benefit The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis.

Who are other women of substance that have had great influence over you? 

My mother, Suzie Sayfie, is my role model. She is always thinking of everyone else. I am so lucky to have such an incredible woman guiding me, and I hope that I can be half of the spectacular mother to my two boys that she is to my sisters and me.

What is your favorite memory you have from working on one of your philanthropic projects? 

My favorite memory is when Christine Lynn, an incredibly generous philanthropist and wonderful friend, stood up at the Great Sports Legends Dinner and announced a donation of $25 million to The Buoniconti Fund. What a night!


ANGELA BIRDMAN 

Angela Birdman
Angela Birdman at Special Olympics South Florida Athletes Awards 2017

Photo Credit: Gabriel Bancora

When did your philanthropic work begin? 

I have always been involved in some capacity, but about four or five years ago I started taking on more active and leadership roles.

What are some causes that you feel the closest connection to?

There are so many fabulous causes, but I limit my time to a few so they can have my full attention: The Humane Society of Greater Miami, After-School All-Stars, National YoungArts, JAFCO, ScentsAbility and Special Olympics.

How have you worked to help these causes?

I am passionate about my animals, which prompted me to create Walk in Style for the Animals benefitting The Humane Society of Greater Miami. We will be having our next event in November at Saks Fifth Avenue in Bal Harbour. I also co-chair the Brunch for the Animals at the Fontainebleau; sit as chair of The Circle at National YoungArts Foundation; am a big fan and supporter of After-School All-Stars; have been a godparent at JAFCO for years; and most recently served as event chair for Special Olympics 2017 Athlete Awards. 

Angela and Louis Birdman
Angela and Louis Birdman with their dogs

Photo Credit: Angela Birdman 

What is your favorite philanthropic event in Miami?

That’s tough to say… Walk in Style for the Animals is my baby, and I love the Brunch for the Animals. National YoungArts has a fabulous gala with amazing performances by the gifted young adults the program funds, and I literally cannot express the joy I felt watching the athletes dancing on stage at the Special Olympics Athletes Awards this year. You would have to be there to experience it to understand.

Who are other women of substance that have had great influence over you? 

I admire anyone who gives of their time, talents and resources to help others. To borrow from Matthew McConaughey, my hero is me in 10 years. I just try to do the best with what I have to give, keep pushing the limits and raising the bar higher.

What is your favorite memory you have from working on one of your philanthropic projects? 

Hearing the news that we raised enough money post-hurricane in Miami to send our 34 Special Olympic athletes that had qualified to compete at Nationals. That was my goal; I cried tears of joy.


SHANNON ALLEN 

Shannon and Ray Allen
Shannon and Ray Allen with their children

Photo Credit: Shannon Allen

When did your philanthropic work begin? • 

Even as a little girl, giving back was a big part of my life. My mom, who owned and operated the No. 1 independently owned real estate company in central Connecticut and worked 90 hours a week busting her a** to build a brand, make a living and a create a better life for us, dedicated whatever spare time she had to help people in need. She was a member of several charitable groups and helped unite people in our community. My sisters, dad and I would all help get involved. My mom has a heart of gold. Giving is in her DNA. I saw firsthand very early on the power of giving of yourself and how selflessness can affect someone’s life for good.

What are some causes that you feel the closest connection to? 

My heart’s cause is raising funds for a cure for Type 1 diabetes in honor of our son Walker, a 10-year-old champion that’s been thriving in spite of diabetes since his diagnosis at 17 months old. My husband, Ray, has been donating computer centers to public middle schoolers in underserved communities for 21 years through his work with his Ray of Hope [ROH] Foundation, and it’s been my honor to help champion his efforts. But our family’s philanthropic work does not stop here. We are most drawn to causes for children and families, and to stand up and fight for people that have been marginalized. The truth is, I don’t think we’ve ever turned down an opportunity to help anyone.

How have you worked to help these causes? 

Until very recently, I sat on the International Board of Directors for the JDRF and continue to lend my voice to raise awareness and funds for research for a cure for the JDRF, Joslin Diabetes Center of Boston and the Diabetes Research Institute here in Miami. Our family has been very fortunate to partner with our dear friends and fellow T1D parents, Andria and Javier Holtz [Marquis Bank, Holtz Children’s Hospital], on several events here in Miami to raise the very necessary work that Dr. Camillo Ricordi and his team are working on to push the envelope towards a cure for our Walker, their son Andrew and the millions of adults and children like them that do battle with Type 1 every day.

What is your favorite philanthropic event in Miami? 

My favorite Miami events are the Ray Allen Golf Tournament to benefit the ROH Foundation and “Out of the Kitchen,” which is held at the St. Regis in Bal Harbour, hosted by world-renowned Iron Chef, cookbook author and founder of Beyond Type 1, chef Sam Talbot and features 12 of Miami’s hottest chefs. This event marries two of my passions—finding a cure for Type 1 and food! This year, we were honored to have a “Grown table” where our own Grown team delivered a scrumptious farm-to-table, five-course meal made with 100-percent USDA organic certified ingredients. I was so proud to have been able to lend our talents led by our executive chef, Jamarr Massey, to support our hearts cause.

Who are other women of substance that have had great influence over you? 

My list begins with the women that raised me. My grandmother, mom, aunts, my mother-in-law—these women have set the tone for influencing every part of my life and especially how I parcel out my heart. This is really hard. There are so many women of substance that influence me on a daily basis. I am continually inspired by the innumerable contributions of my forever first lady, Michelle Obama, and her commitment to health and wellness for young people throughout the world. She set the tone for fitness, access to fresh fruits and veggies for all children regardless of socio-economic background and she fought to carve out a space of equality and worthiness for all young people. On a global level, Beyoncé is also at the top of my list―this phenomenal woman is not only a living legend with respect to her sheer artistry, but she is a living example of all the wonderful qualities of being a Grown woman. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, entrepreneur—giver. Her work with BeyGood is aspirational. Tiffany Ortiz is another person that stands out as a huge influencer in my philanthropic life. She personally has given her time as a member of UNICEF for over 14 years, has put her body and heart on the line every year to ride 250 miles for the Pan-Mass Challenge to raise money for cancer research, and the work she and her husband, David [“Big Papi” Ortiz] do through the David Ortiz Children’s Fund is literally lifesaving. They provide emergency heart surgeries for children in the Dominican Republic. This is my short list. I could keep going…

What is your favorite memory you have from working on one of your philanthropic projects? 

Last year, Grown was very fortunate to have provided breakfast for several events for the Dolphins Cancer Challenge—a series of morning bike rides and runs based throughout Miami to raise funds for a cure for cancer. Our boys came to a morning ride and helped make omelettes and pass out yogurt parfaits, house-made baked goods and freshly squeezed orange juice to the famished riders/runners post-event. A woman came up to me at the event and introduced herself to me; she thanked me for being there, for donating food and for showing up to support the event. She went on to say that she had been living with Type 1 her whole life and was also a cancer survivor and that eating at Grown was a big part of her healing. She thanked me for creating it. Our son Walker overheard her and when she walked away he asked me, “Mom, do you think you would’ve created Grown if I had never gotten Type 1 Diabetes?” I told him no, and that if he hadn’t been diagnosed with a serious medical condition like Type 1, I never would’ve been so desperate or motivated to reinvent fast food. He looked at me and said, “If creating Grown helps people like that lady, and you wouldn’t have created it without me having Type 1, I’m okay with it. I’m okay with the diabetes, Mom.” My beautiful baby summed it all up for me. He was willing to sacrifice his own health and battle every day for the rest of his life until there’s a cure if it meant helping others. The ultimate gift. The gift of yourself. This is what I think about when people ask me to help, to donate time or money or to spread the word. My children are the reason I give.

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