January 16, 2017
photography by jared mcmillan
styling by todd hanshaw | November 21, 2011 | Lifestyle
Emily Jillette: Outspoken Leader
After settling into married life as “Mrs. Penn & Teller,” Emily Jillette (wife of Penn) found herself feeling a little restless. So the unreserved local celebrity, who speaks out on everything from parenting to atheism and self-improvement, reached out and asked a friend about philanthropic volunteerism.
It just so happened that her friend was working with Opportunity Village, and the organization was holding an event the very next week.
“There was a woman there who had been in a car accident and become disabled, both mentally and physically,” Jillette says. “She had made these beautiful scarves and she was selling them there. It’s not that I think of myself as invincible, but up until then I had never really thought, This is something that can happen to anybody.”
That was four years ago, and now Jillette is one of the organization’s most active volunteers. In addition to her fundraising efforts, last year, the avid poker player served as chairwoman for the organization’s Celebrity Poker Tournament.
This fall, she’ll again match up two of her interests: The impressive golfer has teamed up with Caesars’ Cascata Golf Course (Jillette is the only female member of the prestigious club) to arrange Around the Green Opportunity Village, a chipping and putting clinic for the organization’s patrons. “To be frank, I didn’t feel like I was working hard enough just making phone calls,” she says. —MARK ADAMS
Gown, Laundry by Shelli Segal. Earrings and ring, Van Cleef & Arpels. The Shoppes at The Palazzo
Susie Lee: Head of the Class
As a state with one of the country’s highest high-school dropout rates, Nevada needs all the education pioneers it can get. Enter 19-year Las Vegas resident Susie Lee, longtime fighter for Nevada’s education.
Lee’s newest crusade is one that she’ll be focusing a majority of her time on: Communities in Schools, part of a national network that’s leading dropout prevention. In May, Lee was appointed president of the Las Vegas chapter by close friend Elaine Wynn, who is now chairwoman of the national board of Communities in Schools.
“We surround children with a community of support,” Lee says. “We provide site coordinators to serve as traffic cops and get the kids the resources they need, at their own school. Certain needs have to be met so they can succeed.”
Lee is due to end her Nevada Women’s Philanthropy presidency this month and will focus on her role raising money for Communities in Schools, helping set policy and strategy and promote advocacy. She will also be helping to organize fundraising events; last month’s inaugural Scarecrow Festival fall family benefit was a huge success, and next up is Tea With Santa on December 10 at Simon at Palms Place.
Lee says her desire to help society’s youth succeed against adverse circumstances comes from her own humble story of growing up in a family of eight. “The presence of mentors really helped me when I needed it the most,” she says. “I believe that everyone needs a helping hand at some point in their life, and the kids in our community are so stressed.”—EMMA TROTTER
Alex Epstein: Neon Crusader
No one could accuse Alex Epstein of going rogue. The hotel scion puts everything into advocating for Downtown Las Vegas, which has been close to her family’s heart for decades. The 26-year-old manages a piece of neon history at the El Cortez, as executive manager, and she helps the conservation of our town’s most famous art form as a member of the Neon Museum’s board of trustees.
As a third-generation Las Vegan, Epstein’s family ties to the city inspired her to volunteer with the museum, which is scheduled to open Downtown next year with a much-anticipated visitors center. Previously, the Neon Boneyard of retired signs had always been by reservation only. “I always found it extremely enchanting,” she says. “These are the signs that welcomed my grandparents. Being in the casino industry, I am nostalgic for old, vintage Vegas.”
But it goes beyond the signs themselves and is really more about what they represent from an artistic, historical, and cultural standpoint.” One example: the Moulin Rouge sign, from the first integrated casino in Las Vegas.
Epstein says her board is relatively small, so she remains quite active with museum responsibilities, deciding anything from what materials to include in the museum to what photo shoots to allow in the Boneyard. She also helped plan the inaugural Boo! Boneyard Bash, held last month to benefit the museum. “Beyond it being what some people might imagine to be a junkyard or a boneyard where old times go to die,” she says, “it really gives you a sense of Las Vegas’s culture as it’s evolved throughout the years.”—MARK ADAMS
Scarf worn as a shirt, necklace, and boots, Fendi. Necklace and ring, Van Cleef & Arpels. All available at The Shoppes at The Palazzo
Kelly Petersen: Courageous Counselor
Before Kelly Petersen, Nevada was the only state without rape counseling. Today, she is helping secure immediate and long-term help for sexual assault victims, one step at a time. A longtime board member of Nevada Women’s Philanthropy, Petersen eventually became involved with The Rape Crisis Center, a small nonprofit organization and the only one of its kind in Las Vegas. Earlier this year, she helped found and open its new NWP Signs of Hope Counseling Center.
“A woman is three times as likely to be raped in Nevada than anywhere else in the country,” she says. “Yet we were the only state that didn’t have counseling.” Signs of Hope opened in February, after The Rape Crisis Center was chosen to receive a highly coveted $350,000 grant by NWP in 2010. Petersen was asked to be on the advisory council that monitors how the grant money is distributed and spent. Since learning about the discrepancy between the staggering local statistics and how few support services were available for rape victims, she has been on board every step of the way.
And it’s only part of the work Petersen is doing to get the word out. “If we get more support from the police, from the courts, and from social media, and we get younger girls to report the crimes, that’s very important as well,” she says. “The thing that is really important is that there is help, there is hope, and you can heal.”—EMMA TROTTER
Shirt, Chloé. Pants, Catherine Malandrino. Belt and boots, Fendi. Necklace and watch, Van Cleef & Arpels. All available at The Shoppes at The Palazzo. Hair and makeup by Jorge Cossio at Tease Salon
Holly Madison: Star Ambassador
She may seem to be a version of a modern-day showgirl, but Holly Madison’s blonde ambition extends way beyond performing in Peepshow and filming her E! reality show, Holly’s World. In August, the cable TV and local stage star got another big break: She was named the official Las Vegas ambassador of The Lili Claire Foundation, which assists with medical care, treatment, and resources for families of children with disorders and special needs such as Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
It was a big role to fill: The last ambassador was the beloved performer Danny Gans, who passed away in 2009. “We are really fortunate to have something like Lili Claire Foundation here in Nevada,” Madison says. “Everybody thinks of Las Vegas in a certain light. But we have these specialists here and programs that help so many people.”
The Lili Claire Foundation was originally established in 1998 in Los Angeles by Keith and Leslie Resnick, whose newborn baby Lili Claire passed away as a result of complications relating to Williams syndrome. “I’m going to do anything that they want me to do as far as helping to raise money,” says Madison, who also visits with kids and parents at the foundation. “Lili Claire Foundation is building a whole huge facility in Henderson, and it’s going to be tremendous.”—EMMA TROTTER
Dress, Nina Ricci. Platform sandals, Fendi
Leora Blau: Tireless Fundraiser
Leora Blau had been actively involved with the Jewish Federations of North America while living in New York, so one of the first things she did when she moved to Las Vegas in 2004 was seek out the federation’s local chapter. Now, she’s one of its most active members.
The mother of three sits on the organization’s National Women’s Philanthropy council and has cochaired its high-profile United Luncheon numerous times, helping secure speakers like Candace Bushnell and Simon Doonan. She is now planning the 2012 event, taking place February 1. Her other big project is the annual Lion of Judah Luncheon, set for April 18. “My dad is from Israel, and I always witnessed giving back; both my parents influenced me,” she says. “Now I am very hands-on in showing my own children how to give back. My children have always included Jewish Federation as part of their mitzvah projects, so a portion of their mitzvah gifts have gone there.”
The Jewish Federation of Las Vegas is a deeply rooted, massive organization with branches including the Senior Lifeline program, scholarships for children to go to the Jewish Community Center camp, job placement assistance through Project Ezra, and JewEL, Jewish Emerging Leaders, among others. As one of her main responsibilities is fundraising, Blau was instrumental in bringing in Van Cleef & Arpels at The Shoppes at The Palazzo, which has provided several auction and raffle items each year since the store opened in 2008.
“They donate to both our big events every year, including a $25,000 diamond Dentelle collection watch in 2008,” Blau says. “They give a substantial piece to United Luncheon as well as the Lion of Judah.”—EMMA TROTTER
Jesika Towbin-Mansour: Meals on Wheels
One in six Southern Nevada residents are hungry, many of them children under five years old. A new mother herself, Jesika Towbin-Mansour is doing her part to help, via Three Square Food Bank, which she’s been with since its inception. Just shy of its fourth birthday, Three Square is Southern Nevada’s largest hunger-relief organization. It all started when Towbin-Mansour helped secure its headquarters, started its fundraising, and got the charity up and running together with her mother, Carolynn, then the chair of the operational board. “We built it,” Towbin-Mansour says, “from the ground up.”
The charity’s astronomical achievements are a testament to Towbin-Mansour’s ability to mobilize a community around a common cause. The Towbin family, after all, knows a little something about growing a successful enterprise: Their company owns the premier luxury vehicle dealership in the Las Vegas area. “I love being hands-on,” Towbin-Mansour says. Three Square is now one of the fastest food banks in the country, having reached more than 100,000 people in need every month. It is on track to distribute 24.4 million pounds of food this year.
“This kind of performance is unbelievable. The whole goal is to get more people out there to donate time, money, and resources,” she says of Three Square, which enlists 30,000 volunteers a month through its agency partners. “Even the casinos have stepped up and done their part.” When casinos start investing in a cause, you know it’s a safe bet.—KAITLIN CLARK
Vanessa Breitling: Miracle Worker
It was their own personal nightmare-with-a-happy-ending that led to Vanessa and Tom Breitling’s involvement with The Pregnancy Foundation, formerly The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. The now-35-year-old experienced two tough pregnancies, the latter of which required intense specialty care to ensure her baby’s survival. Thanks to the help of brilliant perinatologist and Pregnancy Foundation board member Dr. Brian Iriye, her beautiful baby Valentina, now one (sister to Aliana, three), survived, without complications. Soon after, they became involved with the foundation, which just recently opened a local chapter.
“It’s dedicated to research on pregnancy, to prevent pre-term birth, and better outcomes for the mothers,” she says. “My husband and I are the first couple and first board members who are non-doctors. With the work we’re doing and our parents’ night out event next spring, we’re saying, ‘We’re here, this is what we do, and why you should be involved.’”
Breitling sympathizes with all parents with similar battles, whether it be with frustrating, failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization or trying to detect genetic disorders—all variables researched and studied by the Foundation’s staff. Along with her advisory council, she hopes to select a local family in need and provide free services, and develop a gift-matching program with local businesses. “The work The Pregnancy Foundation does is for people who haven’t gotten a chance to start their life,” Breitling says. “I received such a blessing, and if I can give somebody else that, that’s all I could ask for.”—EMMA TROTTER