Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Yorkers For Children

Looking east towards the Empire State Building from the Hudson River Promenade. 8:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, 9/17. A beautiful day, yesterday in New York, with blue skies and big white puffy clouds of poetry. At Michael’s I sat and talked with a friend about the situation on Wall Street. The rumors were AIG was in transit. On the road to ... somewhere; but where.

By the time I got home last night from the New Yorkers For Children Benefit at Cipirani 42nd Street, it had been announced that the Fed had a made an $85 billion dollar loan or something deal to save AIG from collapsing. That’s three major financial banks in about 24 hours. There are many explanations but no one seems to really know. That would take extraordinary prescience. For those of us who have been intense students of the unfolding financials for several years now, it something to behold.

There are already stories of spectacular loss, not to mention job loss. Will this be the drama we write about later? Or is this just wild anticipation? At a dinner table in Amaranth restaurant last week, I heard one woman to another woman speak of a mutual friend (a couple) who had recently sold their apartment for $40 million – an apartment that they’d bought very recently. “She said he didn’t like it. He took one look at it and said he wouldn’t be comfortable there,”said the first woman. “They’re broke !!” said the second woman, who happens to be a prominent real estate broker here in New York. “They sold it because they’re broke. He lost everything!” These are the kind of stories we’re beginning to hear.

However. Fast forward.
Last night at Cipriani was the New Yorkers for Children love in. A gala. I don’t know what they raised this year but it had to be up there around seven figures because the place was packed. And it was rocking.
The greeting just inside the entrance of Cipriani 42nd Street for last night's New Yorkers for Children Gala.
I’ve written about this organization since ite was first formed a number of years ago by Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Oscar de la Renta, Susan Burden, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, and several others who made a big difference. I remember their first dinner gala. They had a good crowd, a “younger crowd” (20, 30 somethings) and a lot of people got behind it.

Now they’e major on the New York social gala circuit. This is an important achievement because it not only enhances the treasury but it brings a lot of new people into the fold. Now more than ever it is about community and helping young people who need helping in order to make productive lives and productive communities for all of us. I love the thought of it. Think of it: bravery, love, courage, motivation, sharing. All those liberal ideals, no? Well, liberal or not, this New Yorkers for Children does just that for kids from foster homes.

It was a gala affair. The women were all dressed and looking great. The young set gets competitive with the stars of the not-as-young-but-still-flying (private) set. The girls dress for this black tie affair and it’s great to see; it lifts the room some. There was quite a bit of talk up there on the podium. Sometimes you’d think: get the hook! Jimmy Fallon did some standup although the sound in the Cip 42 is not great and the audience was less than focused. Then Nicholas Scoppetta spoke and introduced Lyor Cohen, the head of Warner Music Group, who presented a video on the honoree, Kevin Liles, Executive Vice President, Warner Music Group and author of the best-selling “Make It Happen.” Mr. Liles is Mr. Dynamite. Certainty of purpose; pursuing his bliss by making use of himself to himself and to many others as much as he can.
Robert Couturier and Bettina Zilkha Jim Diamond and Barbara de Portago Geoffrey Bradfield
You got the feeling, taking this all in, that there is a lot of future out there, especially if we look after our young, and most especially those young who have no one to look after them. In my own life, I’ve been blessed with the great fortune of having supporters and mentors all my life. Friends, they can be. Sometimes just Guardian Angels. This is the gift that sustains all of us and most especially those of us who are most in need.

The New Yorkers For Children kids are those kids who need that good fortune. The organization actually provides it. There are 17,000 children in foster care. Every year New Yorkers for Children assists 1000 of them leaving foster care and going on into the world on their own. As many of us know, it is the first exciting grownup experience we have, going out there into the world as individuals. Freedom to do, to be, to live. It’s exciting but scary for everyone and hardest for those of us who don’t have the leg-up from our families.

They gave the 2008 New Yorkers for Children and Nordstrom 2008 Spirit Award to Kevin DiBenedetto. Mr DiBenedetto who is in his second year at Binghamton studying computer science, is a very dynamic young man. Determined. He told us about his long hard trip into foster care when his father died. There was a lot of the Kevin Liles in what he had to say about his life: dream, look up, learn, get education, do, move.
Kevin DiBenedetto holding his Spirit Award with previous winners.
I was thinking, listening to all of this over our Cipriani dinners (Shrimp Salad, Osso Buco in a Corn Sauce) how as things unfolding as they are in the world around us, all of the children (and the little animals) will be more vulnerable to the harsh realities of the adults.

There was a video of one young woman who’d benefited from New Yorkers For Children, recounting how when she was ten years old, her mother who smoked and drank excessively, had a heart attack one morning and died. The child remembered then being taken to the Police Precinct where she spent the day. At the end of the day she was taken to her foster home. A house of strangers whom she would live with. Like it or not. Her mother hadn’t been dead twenty-fours and her life had ended. At ten. That’s what it feels like for a ten year old; remember?

Debbie Bancroft
Being one of those who follows the financials and the economics of our world out of habit, what has been apparent for years now is the direction we now find ourselves in. I rarely mention it because the response is almost universally an affirmation of The Positive. “Well, I prefer to remain optimistic.” Or they call me Mr. Doom and Gloom. However, I think of myself as basically an “optimistic” person despite my less than rosy observation of the financials of our world and its potential ramifications on us. However, New Yorkers for Children is the affirmation for me. They are what Optimism is all about and what its founders and supporters are all about. They are helping the children. That’s optimism personified.

Meanwhile back at the table where I was sitting at table alongside Muffie Potter Aston and Peggy Siegal and Debbie Bancroft. They were talking about Christine Schwarzman’s new haircut, which they liked. When Lyor Cohen went up to the podium they had high praise for him, and how he was also Tory Burch’s new boyfriend.

Mr. Cohen is a new bright light on the scene. Adorable, they said. On stage, from this purview, Mr. Cohen who is tall and lanky, with a salt-and-paper head of short hair, is unassumingly courteous, generous in his sincerity. Right after the main course was removed, someone passing by accidentally was bumped by another passing by, and a glass of champagne suddenly flipped over and splashed all over Bancroft and Aston, with their first-time wearing designer dresses (Muffie was wearing a new Oscar; Debbie was in a new Jackie Rogers), satin and silk. Champagne leaves its mark, Muffie said.

Muffie was philosophical about it. She was reminded of a time she wore a brand new dress by Mila Schon who died in her 90s only a couple of weeks ago. It was a beautiful white Mila Schon. And someone at the party spilled her full glass of red all over the dress. Vinegor, baking soda, salt. Nothing worked. No optimism there. Life. New York nights.
Julie and Billy Macklowe Gillian Miniter and Tracy Huff Kevin DiBenedetto and Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos
Lara Shaw, Serena Nikkhah, and Lauren Remington Platt Chessy Wilson and Kristin Klonoski
Muffie Potter Aston and Peggy Siegal Alexandra Lebenthal Debbie Bancroft Sheila Parham
Annie Churchill and Amy Smilovic Genevieve Bahrenburg, Olivia Palermo, and Liz Walker
Tory Burch and Lyor Cohen Alexis Clark and Susan Fales-Hill
Dr. Patrick Stubgen Caroline Dean and David Anton
Leonel Piraino and Nina Griscom Kevin DiBenedetto, Susan Magazine, and Susan Burden
Jasmine Elizabeth Cherry, Monique Betton, Ishmael Kamara, Beyonce, Joy Bryant, and Gayle King Elizabeth Fekkai, Steve Tanger, and Kevin Liles
Nathan Bernstein and Katharina Otto-Bernstein Leslie Stevens Dana Stubgen
Carlos Sousa and Annelise Peterson Ashley McDermott Christine Schwarzman

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