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Sissy DeMaria-Koehne at the Good Hope Equestrian Training Facility in Homestead


Lending Hands

By Riki Altman-Yee

Photography by Nick Garcia


Whether it’s personal or through work, with their children or without, these local philanthropists prove altruism is alive and well in Miami.

For Sissy DeMaria-Koehne, charity and equestrian pursuits go hand in hand.

As co-founder of one of South Florida’s largest public relations firm, Sissy DeMaria-Koehne credits her love of horses for many of her achievements. “My parents bought me a pony as a little girl and I remember begging for that pony,” she says. “That will to succeed has carried me throughout my life and career, wanting to go after something and making it happen.” So when she and stablemate Isabel Ernst discussed merging their passion for horseback riding with their desire to help the disabled in 2013, Give a Buck for Special Equestrians was born. Along with other “ambassadors,” the two women collected money to support therapeutic riding scholarships and equine therapy barns. “It’s life-changing,” says DeMaria-Koehne. “Take children in wheelchairs, for example. They have to look up at everybody, but when they’re on a horse they don’t. That’s very empowering; pure freedom. You want to pay that forward.” Since its inception, the newly renamed Give Back for Special Equestrians has raised close to $150,000 and expanded northward thanks to a powerhouse board spearheaded in part by Georgina Bloomberg and Jimmy Torano. The nonprofit holds A-list events in South Florida and New York and, as of 2018, Don and Katrina Peebles have agreed to host its annual fundraiser at their Hamptons home. “My goal is to one day make this a national charity,” says DeMaria-Koehne. “We’re making strides, but we still have hurdles to jump.”

Busy with parenting, business and life, Juliana and Alex Krys never let their philanthropy take a backseat.

Between raising four kids, her budding jewelry design business and his role as managing partner at Juniper Capital, Juliana and Alex Krys’ life is constantly in motion, but altruism always gets priority status. “[Juliana and I] approach philanthropy the same way,” says Alex. “We want our money and time to have a direct impact. I call it ‘activist giving.’” Sometimes the two work in tandem, especially at Temple Beth Am, where one of their kids attends private school, and for Miami Children’s Health System Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, where the Krys family served as the presenting sponsor at its 2018 Wine, Women & Shoes luncheon. (Juliana has volunteered with the organization for the past three years while Alex is working with the hospital’s senior management to create innovative programs.) They also volunteer independently, as Juliana does for Kristi House and its Project GOLD. She is chairing the nonprofit’s auction at its upcoming Celebration of Light gala in February and soon plans to keep the young victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking company while they await therapy appointments. “I’ll get in any way I can to directly help,” she says. “It’s time to bring this out of the darkness and shed some light on the issue. I’d like to take the shame away so people can start talking about this. You can have a direct impact on these kids and ultimately improve their lives.”

Pamela Silva Conde at home on Brickell

Univision’s Pamela Silva Conde lends her voice to help children and young adults achieve their full potential.

Millions of viewers watch Emmy Award-winning journalist Pamela Silva Conde on Univision’s weekday news magazine Primer Impacto, but away from the cameras her focus is on philanthropy. “I always want to roll up my sleeves and go behind the scenes,” she says. And while her husband, Cesar Conde, works for the competition (he left Univision in 2013 and is now chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises), she says they are a united front when it comes to children’s causes. Take, for example, the Pamela Silva Conde Honors College Scholarship they established at Florida International University (her alma mater). Each year they give two first-generation, low-income business or journalism majors in college honors programs $2,000 through graduation, a move that has helped numerous students complete their higher education. With Cesar’s support, Pamela is also very involved with City Year Miami, an initiative that places AmeriCorps pros into high schools to keep challenged kids on track for graduation, and for the last decade, she has donated her time to Amigos for Kids, the Miami-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse. Pamela and the other Amigos board members are currently organizing their annual holiday toy drive. “You would think a lot of these children just want toys,” she explains, “but what they ask for is a bed, Publix gift certificates and a real Christmas tree, [things] they’ve never had.” Pamela also serves on the national board for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as the media liaison and on its local board, where she spearheads Young Professionals for St. Jude’s. “I love to work with people who are inspirational,” she says. “It’s very gratifying.”

Hotelier Neil H. Shah has made sustainability an integral part of his company’s corporate culture.

Hersha Hospitality Trust’s president and COO, Neil H. Shah, not only serves on the Florida Council of 100, mentors University of Miami students, and sits on the board of trustees and the Tocqueville Society of the United Way Miami-Dade, but he has also been instrumental in crafting strategic initiatives to help his family’s company pave the way to a greener, halcyon world. Via the program called EarthView, Hersha now measures achievement based not just on financial gains, but also environmental and community impact. “EarthView can create positive value for all of our stakeholders, positively impacting our hotels’ bottom lines while simultaneously improving the well-being of our guests, our employees, our communities and our planet,” Shah explains. Thus far, Hersha’s improvements at the 49 properties it owns and operates have made an impact, especially in Miami where Shah lives: Residence Inn Coconut Grove’s solar photovoltaic system generates nearly 15 percent of the hotel’s total electricity usage; The Ritz-Carlton, Coconut Grove offers EV charging stations; and the recently renovated Cadillac Hotel & Beach Club has LED lighting and smart thermostats. Additionally, Hersha associates have volunteered more than 14,000 hours in local communities and helped raise more than $320,000 for autism awareness since 2015, and each of the hotels in Hersha’s portfolio collects partially used soaps and shampoos, which are then sanitized and sent to communities worldwide with high rates of hygiene-related illnesses. Investors and peers have also taken note in part, Shah says, because Hersha has recorded more than $9.1 million in savings across its portfolio since instituting EarthView. Now that’s bottom line savvy with conscience. 

Carlos and Maryam Miranda with their daughters, Farah and Nilah, at their Seaspice restaurant on the Miami River

Carlos and Maryam Miranda and their two daughters believe charity is a family affair.

It has been said that charity begins at home, but Maryam and Carlos Miranda make the most notable impact from their workplace. Since opening the popular Seaspice in 2015, the two have hosted dozens of organizations’ fundraisers at their restaurant—without discriminating—including ones for The Little Lighthouse Foundation, JAFCO, Make-A-Wish, Fisher Island Philanthropic Fund, Camillus House, Fantastic Oceans, United Way and Audubon. “It happened naturally,” Maryam explains. “It’s not for us to generate resources. It’s to help [nonprofits] have an environment.” With 7,500 square feet of open-concept space fronting the Miami River, the contemporary brasserie has a sound-engineered stage, serves sublime global cuisine and handcrafted cocktails, and even has Modern Garden, a cozy dining area for intimate gatherings with two trees that canopy over the space. Seaspice is also able to accommodate up to 1,200 attendees for banquets, galas and corporate presentations. Often, the Mirandas’ daughters (Farah, age 13, and Nilah, age 9) participate in the events, and at least one of them seems to be following her parents’ example, recently inviting New World School of the Arts to host a fundraiser at Seaspice. Mom couldn’t be prouder: “We teach them about giving. We always say giving is receiving. And when we can, we do.”

Through their foundation, Shane and Heidi Battier are ensuring at-risk youths get to call the shots on their future.

Shane and Heidi Battier met in Michigan in middle school, and have since been married, produced offspring and moved around the country while Heidi worked as a teacher and Shane played basketball for some of the NBA’s top teams. Many Miamians will recall the apex of his career when he helped the Heat win back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. But the Battiers do not take their good fortune for granted. “I was super-blessed to be 6-foot-8 and have some talent,” says Shane, “but there was no way my parents could pay for college. The opportunities afforded to me would have been very limited without basketball. I said, if I ever make it to the Big Show, it’s my responsibility to help kids just like me, who have drive and determination, receive their college education.” In 2010 the couple founded The Battier Take Charge Foundation and, through it, have donated more than $750,000 in scholarships and services (SAT tutors, mentorship programs, college counseling and even etiquette classes) to at-risk, college-bound kids from Houston, Detroit and Miami. Much of the fundraising occurs at the foundation’s annual Battioke (March 14) event in Miami Beach, when athletes and celebrities put aside their pride to karaoke for the cause. “There are some amazing people out there who, if given an opportunity, a platform and an education, are going to do life-changing things,” says Heidi. “That’s what motivates us.”