Gala Gals Theresa Pellas and Amanda Rodriguez
Co-Chairs of the Essence of Nicaragua Gala
For 15 years the American Nicaraguan Foundation (ANF) has raised funds to help impoverished people living in Nicaragua. This powerful organization raises in excess of $110 million annually and is one of the largest charities in South Florida.
At the helm of ANF is its founder Theresa Pellas. She and Amanda Rodriguez will be chairing this year’s Essence of Nicaragua Gala at the Hotel Intercontinental Miami.
SocialMiami was fortunate enough to sit down with Pellas and Rodriguez at Pellas’ Coral Gables home to discuss how ANF has achieved its success, as well as to learn why this year’s 15th anniversary gala will bring attendees back to Nicaragua.
“My husband and I started ANF with a Miami priest who is a friend of ours,” says Pellas. “Our first gala had about 200 people, mostly Nicaraguans, and we raised $300,000. This year we’ll have more than 700 people from all over the world.”
In addition to the international mix of attendees, more than 40 sponsors are participating, including Anheuser-Busch, BAC Florida Bank, Brown Brothers Harriman, Flor de Cana, J P Morgan, Chivas, UBS, Harper’s Bazaar en Espanol, to name a few.
“Our credibility is a major reason why so many have chosen to support us,” Pellas explains. “Our operating expenses are .5 percent of the money we bring in, which means that 99.5 percent of our funds go directly to help Nicaragua. We sponsor several missions every year, as well, and the people who attend become emotionally involved in our cause whether they are from Nicaragua or not.”
ANF works with 3000 different organizations throughout the region and prides itself on having complete transparency with how money is distributed. Funds go to education, health and medical equipment, food and much more.
“We have 46 people working for ANF in Florida and Nicaragua,” says Pellas. “Organizations present us with a project, and we evaluate its validity. This year we’re building 10,000 homes. The city provides the land and ANF provides materials. The people who qualify then have the opportunity to build their own homes.”
The titles for the new homes go to women only. Rodriguez explains why. “In our society men come and go, and the women must be placed in a position to sustain the family. We are helping to build a matriarchal society.”
This year’s Essence of Nicaragua Gala is Rodriguez’s first experience with ANF, and she is working with Pellas to enhance the gala’s already strong international appeal. “Music will be number-one,” she explains, “and guests will enjoy an extended cocktail hour, followed by an elegant dinner and dancing until the early morning hours. It’s definitely a party atmosphere.”
In years past, ANF shied away from a Nicaraguan theme in order to attract a more diverse crowd. But now with this 15th anniversary gala, they are returning to their roots. Special guests will include Cristiana Frixione (Miss Nicaragua 2006 and Miss World Universe 2006), Xiomara Blandino (Miss Nicaragua 2007), Alejandra Espinoza (Nuestra Belleza Latina 2007), Mia Taveras (Miss Dominican Republic 2006 & Miss Continente Americano) and Dayana Colmenares (Miss Venezuela International 2007).
The event is sure to be one to remember and an opportunity for ANF to thank those who make their organization one of the strongest and most respected charities anywhere.