Each year, Vegas magazine and Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian and Palazzo partner to identify and celebrate women of Las Vegas who are making incredible contributions to worthy causes in the city. Our honorees for 2016 not only have a personal connection to the organizations for which they do so much good, but most are natural extensions of their daily lives and professions. Our annual Vegas Gives event, held at the Grand Canal shoppes at Venetian and Palazzo—this year on November 15—pays tribute to nine powerful women.
Keep Memory Alive
Six years ago Dr. Kate Zhong arrived in Las Vegas with her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, on a mission: to lead the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health’s clinical research efforts in finding new treatments for Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, and Alzheimer’s. The latter is at the heart of Keep Memory Alive, the foundation created by Larry Ruvo in honor of his father, which supports the Cleveland Clinic. “Every 60 seconds here in the U.S. someone will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” says Zhong. “It’s becoming an epidemic.” While Zhong recently left her post to join the Global Alzheimer’s Platform, she’ll continue to work closely with the Cleveland Clinic and champion the goals of Keep Memory Alive. “One of our missions is to help people cherish their memories and to help them keep their memories alive for now and for many years to come.”
Nevada Ballet Theatre
As secretary of the board of trustees for Nevada Ballet Theatre, Lauri Thompson has an insider understanding of the long-running company. But her relationship with NBT goes much deeper. The shareholder attorney at Greenberg Traurig originally moved to Las Vegas in 1980 as a ballet dancer and spent two years performing with the company. Today, Thompson is less focused on pointed toes and pirouettes and more excited about the company’s outreach to local students through the in-school Future Dance program. “They develop self-esteem, a strong work ethic. Dance isn’t just about succeeding at dance,” Thompson says. The former ballerina also stresses NBT’s wide-ranging repertoire and its efforts to connect with the greater Vegas community. “A lot of people have a preconceived notion that ballet is Swan Lake. Ballet is a wide variety of dance. Ballet is for everyone.”
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
When Realtor Tanya Murray’s 14-year-old son was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes last year, a disease she’d only loosely understood came into stark focus. While he spent four days in the pediatric ICU, Murray got a crash course in pancreatic function, insulin and blood sugar, as well as an email from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). “When your head is just spinning,” she says, JDRF is a “lifeline.” Dedicated to improving the treatment of and finding a cure for type 1 diabetes, the organization also does vital outreach, letting families confronted with a fundamental change know that they’re not alone. Murray joined the JDRF Nevada chapter board earlier this year, and today she and her son have become experts in managing his disease. “He just got back from a three-week study program in Cambridge, England, that he went to by himself,” Murray says. “Because of the research that JDRF tirelessly works for and campaigns for, he was able to do that.”
Green Our Planet
Ever since Lin Jerome joined mother-daughter organization National Charity League as a child, philanthropy has been an important part of her life. These days the co-founder and owner of interactive marketing company the Refined Agency also leads Ladies Who Dine, a three-year-old social and charitable organization that connects women to local non-profits and each other through restaurant events. “We want to make sure philanthropy is accessible to all and not just those with very deep pockets,” Jerome says. One of the organizations LWD has championed is Green Our Planet, which creates outdoor garden classrooms in Clark County public schools. “In the past two and a half years, they’ve completed 90 gardens in our school district,” says Jerome. But Green Our Planet isn’t resting on its very verdant laurels. The organization’s next goal? Building hydroponic gardens in local schools that will supply fresh produce to cafeterias.
Noah’s Animal House
For Staci Columbo-Alonso, there’s a direct path from her work for philanthropic Las Vegans like Diana Bennett and the Fertitta family and her own charitable contributions. The Station Casinos executive vice president of innovation and administration joined the board of domestic violence shelter Shade Tree in 2001, and in 2007 she founded Noah’s Animal House, a shelter for the pets of women staying there. Before Noah’s, many women would return to their abusers rather than relinquish a cherished member of the family. Now, women whose pets stay at Noah’s have a less than 2 percent return rate, and the organization is currently expanding to Northern Nevada. “The pet provides them the healing and the courage to stay long enough to break the cycle,” she says, “and move forward with their lives.”
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
“It’s quite interesting to watch a child learn at the same time that they’re having fun,” says Stephanie Stallworth. The director of public and community relations for Cox Las Vegas witnessed that moment with her own children at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, so when LVNHM Executive Director Marilyn Gillespie asked her to join the board in 2002, Stallworth stepped right up. Now, she’s one of the board’s more tenured members, as well as its vice chair and an eloquent advocate for the 25-year-old museum where visitors can experience ancient Egypt, watch a paleontology lab in action, or ogle baby sharks named after American Olympians. “When [people] come through the museum doors it’s like they’ve walked through this magical time machine, and they’re all of a sudden transported to another time, another place, a whole other experience,” says Stallworth. “They didn’t have to fly anywhere else to have that experience. It’s right in their backyard.”
Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada
Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada volunteer of the year Kady Casullo describes her work with the organization as an addiction. After starting as an event volunteer in 2013, she graduated to wish granting, acting as a liaison between the foundation and the families of kids with life-threatening illnesses to make their wildest dreams come true. From Disney cruises to room makeovers to meeting the Patriots, the Vegas native has helped grant dozens of wishes, as well as raising more than $26,000 for the foundation this year. But it’s the wish reveals, when Casullo gets to tell a sick child that their dream is becoming reality, that mean the most to her. “It’s the one time that they don’t have to think about doctor appointments and chemo or whatever medical condition they have. To bring good into their lives when there are so many hard things going on, it’s indescribable.”
Speedway Children’s Charities
As a NASCAR pit reporter for Fox, Jamie Little has been lending her famous face and voice to charities for years as an emcee at various events and parties. Recently, she’s taken her philanthropy further, joining the board of an organization close to her heart and her day job, Speedway Children’s Charities, founded by Las Vegas Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith. With chapters based at each of the tracks that Smith owns, SCC is a clearinghouse that distributes money to numerous groups that help children in need with education, health care, food and fun. “Last year we awarded about $250,000 to 50 local charities,” says Little. “We really try to share the wealth with those who need it most. We want to know that the money’s going to go directly to the kids.”
Las Vegas Philharmonic
Thirteen years ago when Jeri Crawford moved to Las Vegas, she had one request for her husband: season tickets to the local symphony. Crawford couldn’t have known it then, but the Las Vegas Philharmonic would become a central part of her life, well beyond just a regular seat in the theater. Today, Crawford is the president and CEO of the Phil and a passionate proponent of classical music. “I believe that the symphony is the cornerstone of the culture and arts in any community,” says Crawford. Indeed, the Phil has reached beyond its regular programming to connect with and inspire Las Vegans young and old. Thirty-two thousand Clark County students will attend special shows this year, and small ensembles carry music into senior communities. “Everything we’re doing goes toward building the culture of Las Vegas,” says Crawford.
photography by TomaSmuScionico