Photo credit: Lieba Nesis

Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education's

Fiesta 2017 at the Iconic Plaza Hotel

Writer: Yerelyn Cortez Hidalgo 

On Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 the annual Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education celebrated Fiesta 2017 at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. 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.

The Plaza Hotel was transformed during cocktail hour and the main ballroom during the dinner and dancing with beautiful hues of reds as well as nicely appointed flowers and plants throughout making it a very inviting Fiesta for guests to enjoy the evening. 

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. 

The attendees didn't disappoint this year as they made sure to were exquisite ensembles including some vintage pieces. A very well-dressed crowd attended the event at The Plaza Hotel to support and raise money for the non-profit organization which provides youth and their families high quality education, arts and social programming in East Harlem and the South Bronx.

One of our great local New York City philanthropists, Jean Shafiroff wore a beautiful pink Carolina Herrera gown. Mrs. Shafiroff is the epitome of a class act, humble, classy and giving back by supporting an array of non-profit organizations in New York City, the Hamptons and Palm Beach, Florida.


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. CasitaMaria 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.  

Feel free to visit their website for more information about their upcoming events and how you can help and be involved with this great non-profit organization.  

Dinner Chairman Jacqueline Weld Drake, Honoree Julia Salvi, Dinner Chairman Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Honoree Elizabeth Peabody and Executive Director Haydee Morales

Philanthropist Jean Shafiroff wearing Carolina Herrera.