Great Eight: Meet Our Inspiring 2019 Vegas Gives Honorees

By Jessi C. Acuña | November 4, 2019 | People

Now in its 11th year, Vegas Gives honors notable philanthropists in the community. On Nov. 6, these eight distinguished women will come together at Wynn Plaza to toast each other and raise awareness for their chosen charities.

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Becky MacDonald, Kimberly Trueba, Marilyn Spiegel, Melissa Richardson Akkaway, Pat Lundvall, Nicole Taffer, Alissa Kelly and Marla Letizia

MARLA LETIZIA

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Kwiat collection Kwiat Legacy earrings, $351,000, and Fred Leighton collection Buccelatti cushion-cut diamond ring with 10.04-carat center stone, price upon request.

When not on-air as Chef Nanny Bubby, Marla Letizia is hard at work as the chair of the board for Jewish Nevada, Nevada’s Jewish federation.

What role does Jewish Nevada play in the community?
Jewish Nevada plays a critical role in our community working to build vibrancy and continuity and to help those in need. Through the more than 70 organizations that we support through allocated dollars, we don’t just help Jews; we help all people in a Jewish way.

How do you see it growing in the future?
We are malleable to changing times. We grow by the mere fact that people who want to give to those who need help always know that their dollars serve and work hard in our care. They want to continue to give to a trusted organization such as ours.

How can locals better serve their city?
I have never been more proud of Las Vegas than I was after Oct. 1. Locals stepped up to the plate and gave huge in a big way to the need of the moment. We Las Vegans were amazing! On a smaller scale, everyone needs to follow their hearts and give to what makes them feel good at the time, as they will always feel better when they follow their heart’s desire.

You’re a marketing pro and on TV. What’s the key to standing out?
Having a goal to stand out is never the right move, but by being focused on one’s own authenticity and bringing that into everything we do, one will naturally stand out.

NICOLE TAFFER

nicole.jpgKwiat collection Kwiat Legacy earrings, $351,000

In between her extensive work schedule at Taffer Media Inc., TV pro Nicole Taffer devotes her time to raising awareness for Keep Memory Alive.

What’s your favorite thing about Las Vegas?
I love that Las Vegas has a great sense of community and involvement aside from the endless amount of things to do, whether on the Strip or exploring the desert. Vegas Gives is a perfect example of that sense of community.

How did you get involved with Keep Memory Alive?
My uncle has Parkinson’s disease, so when I learned about the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health I knew I wanted to be involved with and spread awareness of this facility and all that it does for patients and caregivers living with these diseases.

Why is this organization important to you?
We provide medical services and caregiver programs that were not previously available in Las Vegas. With 30,000 annual Alzheimer’s and other patient visits, outstanding caregiver support and other programs, we have become the medical example of excellence for Las Vegas and the world.

Who has been the biggest source of inspiration in your life? My husband, Jon, is and has been my main source of inspiration for 24 years. His creativity, intelligence and unwavering integrity have always set the example for me and so many others.

What is the recipe for success?
The recipe for success in marriage, as well as our professional lives, is choose a great partner, trust your instincts, treat those around you with dignity and respect, and have fun.

BECKY MACDONALD

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Kwiat collection spiral sapphire and diamond earrings with 26 Burmese sapphires, $72,800, Fred Leighton collection pear-shape Ceylon sapphire rose-cut diamond necklace with 17.79-carat sapphire and 49 marquise rose-cut and round diamonds, $230,000, and Fred Leighton collection vintage-faceted sugarloaf cabochon Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring with 30-carat sapphire and trapezoid-cut diamonds, $370,000.

MacDonald Wealth Associates founder Becky MacDonald works with families and nonprofit organizations to determine their philanthropic legacy— something she dedicates herself to in her board of trustees member-at-large role at Nevada Ballet Theatre.

What led you to get involved with Nevada Ballet Theatre?
I love the ballet. Dance has been in my family for the last 20 years. I was exposed to NBT through a friend, and in 2017, after a delightful luncheon with Nancy Houssels I joined the board of trustees. It has been an honor to see firsthand the beautiful and enriching art that it brings to Las Vegas. Its education and outreach programs, including the acclaimed Future Dance Program, reach more than 20,000 students each year.

What’s the key to getting more people involved in philanthropy?
The key is to ensure there are multiple entry points for engagement. Having several different ways someone can serve the organization opens opportunity for support. You help clients with their social impact.

What do you want your legacy to be?
I hope to leave a legacy of families that are educated and empowered as well as nonprofits that have sustainable investment policies that allow their work to continue and expand in Las Vegas.

How has the Las Vegas nonprofit community evolved?
There is a growing theme of engaging next-generation donors as well as a very needed focus on agency collaboration. Philanthropy is changing with younger generations taking their seats in the boardroom. Successful nonprofits are providing both the service opportunities as well as organizational transparency that new generations demand.

KIMBERLY TRUEBA

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Pear-shape Ceylon sapphire rose-cut diamond necklace with 17.79-carat sapphire and 49 marquise rose-cut and round diamonds, $230,000, rose-cut diamond pavé cobblestone bracelet with 56.27 carats of diamonds, $187,500, and contemporary Burmese sapphire ring with 15.88-carat Burmese sapphire, $870,000, all Fred Leighton collection.

CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada Kimberly Trueba is both an example and an advocate for how the nonprofit still plays a vital role.

How did your experience as a Girl Scout carry into your career?
Girl Scouts taught me the value of relationships, survival skills and exploration. Throughout my career I have leveraged my relationships to gain support, advice, guidance, business and connections. My survival instinct has served me well during two hurricanes, one earthquake and several tornadoes, as well as parenting.

What message do girls need to hear the most right now?
Girls need to hear that what makes you unique is what makes you great!

What does service mean to you?
Service to me is providing leadership and mentorship to others who may need a positive role model or encouragement.

What role does the Girl Scouts organization play in Southern Nevada?
Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.

You’ve been a mentor to many. Is there any advice you find yourself sharing frequently?
Learn all you can in your 20s, work hard in your 30s, balance in your 40s and enjoy sharing your wisdom in your 50s. Remember that as long as you are learning, you are growing.

How can we get more women in leadership positions?
Support other women, celebrate their successes and lift each other up.

ALISSA KELLY

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Art deco platinum diamond machine-age bracelet with four Old European-cut diamonds and 25.75-carats of round and baguette diamonds, $175,000, contemporary marquise Colombian emerald earrings with 30 emeralds, marquise diamonds and 18K gold mountings, $290,000, and sugarloaf emerald ring with 37.02-carat cabochon-cut emerald, $468,000, all Fred Leighton collection.

PR Plus CEO and JDRF Southern Nevada board member Alissa Kelly uses her years of marketing and media experience to shed light on a cause that hits home.

How have you seen Las Vegas evolve over the years?
I am born and raised here, so I have seen the city change over the past 42 years. The growth of the city has been incredible to watch, and with that the opportunities evolve—new jobs, housing growth and new charitable initiatives.

How did you get involved with JDRF?
My dad was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 6 years old. Now he is 68. Seeing what he had to go through— having to give himself shots, watching my mom take care of him if his blood sugar levels went too high or too low—was scary. But I was able to see firsthand the advancements being made in battling the disease making it easier for people to live—a lot of that research is pushed along and funded through JDRF.

What makes JDRF events successful?
The JDRF team understands that Type 1 doesn’t discriminate. Their events offer different ways for people to give back that make sense for their lifestyle. Working in public relations can mean crazy hours.

What keeps you going?
PR brings crazy hours, but I really love what I do, and being a small-business owner allows me great flexibility on all fronts. I have awesome support teams—my team at PR Plus and my family and friends.

MELISSA RICHARDSON AKKAWAY

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Art deco platinum, diamond, ruby and emerald floral motif sautoir with one 0.85-carat old-mine diamond, 3 carats of rubies and 3 carats of emeralds on floral motif and 19 carats of diamonds on necklace, $220,000, and early-20th century (1930s) art deco Trabert & Hoeffer- Mauboussin bracelet with 22 carats of diamonds, $115,000, both Fred Leighton collection.

Fashion entrepreneur and founder of accessories online destination The Particulars Melissa Richardson Akkaway continues her family’s giving tradition through Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada, where she currently dedicates her time to planning and fundraising for its annual fashion luncheon.

What role has philanthropy played in your life?
My mother and grandmother led by example; they are my biggest inspirations and introduced me to the value of philanthropy. Caring deeply for our community has always been a priority for us.

How did you initially get involved with Make-A-Wish?
After college, I moved back to Las Vegas and wanted to get involved with a local charity. My mom has always been involved with organizations that benefit children, and Make-A-Wish seemed like a perfect match because it aids children and families here in our own Las Vegas community.

Describe your experience as a wish granter.
Being a wish granter allows you to bring something truly special to life. From the ideation to the planning, it’s an incredible experience to watch something you basically dreamed up come alive. The most fulfilling part is seeing the child and family’s expression and appreciation for their wish. The process is really hard to describe— it is so special and emotional.

Why does this cause speak to you?
It has always spoken to me because it truly allows the family to have a break from the day-to-day of the illness. Now that I am a mother, it’s exponentially more meaningful.

Who has been your biggest mentor and how has he or she influenced you?
My parents are a huge influence in my life. Their passion, dedication and work ethic are always something I try to emulate in my daily life.

MARILYN SPIEGEL

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Kwiat collection fancy yellow diamond ring with 18.06-carat yellow radiant-cut diamond, $678,500

When not at the helm of Wynn Las Vegas, resort president Marilyn Spiegel is helping lead Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada as the secretary of the board of trustees.

Which additions are you most excited about for Las Vegas?
For the city, I am looking forward to the Raiders coming to town. For the resort, I am excited for the addition of our reimagined golf course— the only one on the Strip—as well as our new convention expansion.

What should people know about Catholic Charities?
Catholic Charities is the organization that helps the most needy in our community. We feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and provide programs that help our clients get back to leading a productive life.

What role does the nonprot play in the future of Southern Nevada?
We haven’t seen a reduction in clients over the past few years, even though we hear the economy is strong.We anticipate that the need for shelter, food services and programs to help get clients back on their feet will continue to grow.

Your background includes education and human resources. What have you learned about people along the way?
The potential of others is amazing. It’s wonderful to watch employees grow their careers through both education and training. Oftentimes employees are surprised by what they can achieve. Although education and training increase one’s skill set, the secret sauce is the employee’s confidence.

PAT LUNDVALL

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Kwiat collection fancy yellow diamond ring with 18.06-carat yellow radiant-cut diamond, $678,500

Pat Lundvall, partner at Nevada-based business law firm McDonald Carano LLP, applies her winning mentality to better serve our military community as the board vice president at Nevada Military Support Alliance.

How did you get involved with the Nevada Military Support Alliance?
In 2002, the first Nevada soldier lost his life during the conflict ongoing in Afghanistan. My late husband, Jerry Bussell, and Joe Brown were traveling from Las Vegas to Carson City when the news broke. They immediately conceived of a fund to assist the family of the fallen soldier. Jerry, as a retired Army colonel, was well aware of the time lag between the payment of military death benefits and the continuing financial obligations that every military family faces. The concept was to raise funds from Nevadans to assist Nevada families during that interim time frame and to immediately deliver those funds with honor after news of a death. Since then, the family of every Nevada soldier who has lost their life while serving their country has received a death benefit from us to assist them in meeting basic living expenses until their military benefits arrive.

What are the organization’s biggest needs?
We have built a number of adaptive homes and transferred those to soldiers returning from service who have lost limbs or developed other limitations. Currently we are building an adaptive home for a soldier with severe needs.

What about living in Las Vegas makes you most proud?
That we take care of our own.



Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYAN HAINER; SHOT ON LOCATION AT WYNN PLAZA; HAIR AND MAKEUP TOUCH-UPS BY STACI LINKLATER AND SUZANNE CLEMENTE OF GLOBE SALON; PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: KEVIN PORTILLO; MARLA LETIZIA STYLED BY LINDSEY BERNAY/SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, NYC; KIMBERLY TRUEBA STYLING BY JENNA DOUGHTON; MAKEUP BY ZEE CLEMENTE; ALISSA KELLY HAIR AND MAKEUP BY ERICA VERMIN