Jennifer Miller-Smith beckons her daughter Madison to join her. The blonde 8-year-old deftly weaves her motorized wheelchair through parties of early arrivals who mingle in a room ringed by red Ferraris and populated by Alices, Queens and Mad Hatters. She approaches her mother and says, “Mommy, my back hurts.” Gently reaching down to caress her daughter’s cheek, Miller-Smith replies, “I know, sweetie.”
The transformed showroom of Ferrari-Maserati of Fort Lauderdale into an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed set was not a dream; nor is a child’s pain. And the storybook fantasy of the little girl who fell down the rabbit hole did not belie the purpose of the evening’s Gala of Hope: finding a cure for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The disease causes muscle deterioration and is the “number one genetic cause of death for infants…” according to Cure SMA.
“I’m not just standing by,” says Miller-Smith, president of the South Florida Chapter of Cure SMA, an organization dedicated to funding and directing research to discover a cure for the neuromuscular disease. Surveying the burgeoning crowd, she doesn’t fight back her tears. Gesturing with a sweep of her arm to ensure no guest’s generosity is overlooked and in a voice that has surrendered to emotion, she concludes, “We’re making a difference.”
The fourth annual Gala of Hope guests were feted to an array of tantalizing passed hors d’oeuvres prepared by The Capital Grilles’ executive chef, Marc Gruverman. The selection included: Lollipop Lamb Chops with 12-Year Aged Balsamic, Ricotta Crostini with Roasted Eggplant & Fresh Basil, and Sliced Sirloin Crostini with Roquefort and Balsamic Onions. Publix Aprons Resident Chef, Wes Bonner, prepared Fried Morel and Leek Mac & Cheese with Gruyere Fondue and Open-Faced Bahn Mi Sliders with Pickled Radish and Cilantro. Smooth cocktails with these menu monikers: Mad Hatter, It Was Only a Dream, Drink Me… Sangria, playfully complementing the “Alice” motif, satiated guests’ thirsts and primed the silent auction-bidding pump. And if the philanthropic in attendance permitted their eyes to dance from the heavenly cars to the heavens, they were treated to a pink and purple leotard-clad acrobat dangling from the showroom’s towering ceiling. The wildly entertaining “Salvador LIVE,” a dancing speed painter, gyrated his way, and created a custom portrait that was auctioned to benefit Cure SMA. A Maserati for a weekend, donated by Ferrari-Maserati of Fort Lauderdale, and a $5,000 shopping spree, donated by J.R. Dunn Jewelers, were among the gala’s featured raffle prizes.
Fiorenna Israel co-chaired the evening with Jennifer Miller-Smith. Israel’s daughter, Mia, has SMA and Israel has no intention of letting Mia or any other child fall into the rabbit hole. Pursing her lips in determination, she says, “I will change it [SMA]. I can hope for a cure but I’ll work until there is a cure.”
For more information about the South Florida chapter of Cure SMA, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.