The New York Women’s Foundation Fall Gala, held at the Plaza Hotel last Thursday night, October 15th, featured a couple of emotional moments during the presentation portion of the evening’s events. The first was when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, took the stage to accept The Walking Stick Award from NYWF Board Member and Gala Chair, Cathy Isaacson. Power was one of four honorees recognized by the NYWF at the annual gala, and when she stepped onstage, there was a moment when it seemed the entire audience in the Grand Ballroom would rise to give her a standing ovation. The energy in the room, when she arrived late, after the cocktail reception, was palpable with the kind of excitement usually reserved for a pop star like Madonna or Beyoncé. Unlike those personalities, Power’s magnetism seems derived from her experience, knowledge and efforts on issues such as UN reform, LGBT and women’s rights, the promotion of religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities, human trafficking, and democracy and human rights.
During her acceptance speech, the Ambassador praised the NYWF saying, “We can’t accept a world in which certain people enjoy certain rights. We can’t have ‘no-go’ zones for human rights of any kind.” She continued by encouraging NYWF and everyone in the audience to “make folks see the human beings that are affected by the endemic problems that many of you are dedicating your lives to addressing and to challenging the challenges that the women and girls of this city continue to face.”
NYWF President & CEO, Ana Oliveira, took the stage next to introduce speaker Charisma DeZonie, a woman whose life has directly benefited from the support of an NYFW grantee partner. The organization, Start Small. Think Big. invests in New York City’s low-income individuals so that they can build thriving businesses, increase their personal financial security, and stimulate economic activity in underserved New York communities. DeZonie told the audience her personal story of losing her job and eventually—with the help of Start Small. Think Big.—creating a successful beverage kiosk that has empowered her and provided her with financial independence. There was a moment during DeZonie’s speech where her eyes teared up, and a potent sense of support seemed to emanate from the audience for her courage in sharing her story with the room full of strangers.
The night kicked off with NYWF Board Chair Anne Delaney welcoming guests noting, “It is a special honor to be here with so many who share a vision for a New York City that is fair and just for all.” She continued, “…by pooling our passion, our resources, our talents and our time, we are making a difference in creating economic security for women and families in our city.” Delaney introduced the evening’s first honoree, longtime NYWF partner Citi who she graciously thanked for their 20 years of support which has enabled NYWF to invest in women’s entrepreneurship and job training to propel women toward livable wage jobs. The award was accepted by CEO of Citibank, North America, Barbara Desoer.
The evening’s final honorees, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, co-creators of FUN HOME, were introduced by Hoda Kotb. The two women made history earlier this year as the first female duo to win a Tony for Best Score of a Musical. During her speech, Tesori gave thanks to the women that had come before her, referring to them as the “invisible women whose shoulders I stand on and that had not been celebrated.” She paid respect by saying, “I would not be able to walk down the path unless they had taken their machetes and made the path for me.” The program fittingly concluded with a rousing performance of “Changing My Major to Joan” from FUN HOME.
Each of the evening’s honorees was presented with the traditional NYWF Walking Stick Award, a symbol of wisdom, strength and forward motion. The walking sticks are created especially for each honoree by former NYWF grantee partner Youth Empowerment Mission, Inc. The $680,000 raised at the night’s event will help The New York Women’s Foundation to award $6 million to more than 70 women-led, community organizations this year. NYWF is the third largest women’s grant-making foundation in the United States, and funds community-based organizations that promote economic security, anti-violence and safety, quality healthcare and sexual and reproductive rights for women and families in all five boroughs of New York City.
Guests in attendance included: Hoda Kotb (Mistress of Ceremony), Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, New York City Comptroller, Scott Stringer, actor David Duchovny, and author Matt Warshaw. Also in attendance were Gala Chairs: Cathy and Walter Isaacson, Carolyn Rossip Malcom, Grainne McNamara, Yvonne Quinn, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, Celeste Smith and Shawna D. Wilson; Gala Vice-Chairs: Hyatt Bass, Michele and Jason Penzer; Leadership Committee Members: Joan and Donald Sherman; and Benefit Committee Members: Sue and Rick Cote, Margaret Morrison and Larry Heuer.
The New York Women’s Foundation is a cross-cultural alliance of women, serving as a voice for women and a force for change. The Foundation identifies innovative organizations that are effecting change for women in the communities they serve. NYWF strategically funds organizations and programs that move women, girls and families toward long-term economic security through individual transformation and systemic change, mobilizing leaders and community partners as philanthropists and change agents. NYWF funds programs that promote economic security and justice, anti-violence and safety, health, and sexual rights and reproductive justice for women and girls in New York City. For additional information about The New York Women’s Foundation, please visit www.nywf.org.