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Lending Hands

BY Riki Altman-Yee | October 24, 2018 | Feature Features National

Whether it's personal or through work, with their children or without, these local philanthropists prove altruism is alive and well in Miami.
Sissy DeMaria-Koehne at the Good Hope Equestrian Training Facility in Homestead

RIDING HIGH
For Sissy DeMaria-Koehne, charity and equestrian pursuits go hand in hand.

As co-founder of one of South Florida’s largest public relations firm, Sissy DeMaria-Koehne credits her love of horses for many of her achievements. “My parents bought me a pony as a little girl and I remember begging for that pony,” she says. “That will to succeed has carried me throughout my life and career, wanting to go after something and making it happen.” So when she and stablemate Isabel Ernst discussed merging their passion for horseback riding with their desire to help the disabled in 2013, Give a Buck for Special Equestrians was born. Along with other “ambassadors,” the two women collected money to support therapeutic riding scholarships and equine therapy barns. “It’s life-changing,” says DeMaria-Koehne. “Take children in wheelchairs, for example. They have to look up at everybody, but when they’re on a horse they don’t. That’s very empowering; pure freedom. You want to pay that forward.” Since its inception, the newly renamed Give Back for Special Equestrians has raised close to $150,000 and expanded northward thanks to a powerhouse board spearheaded in part by Georgina Bloomberg and Jimmy Torano. The nonprofit holds A-list events in South Florida and New York and, as of 2018, Don and Katrina Peebles have agreed to host its annual fundraiser at their Hamptons home. “My goal is to one day make this a national charity,” says DeMaria-Koehne. “We’re making strides, but we still have hurdles to jump.”

ALTRUISM ALWAYS
Busy with parenting, business and life, Juliana and Alex Krys never let their philanthropy take a backseat.

Between raising four kids, her budding jewelry design business and his role as managing partner at Juniper Capital, Juliana and Alex Krys’ life is constantly in motion, but altruism always gets priority status. “[Juliana and I] approach philanthropy the same way,” says Alex. “We want our money and time to have a direct impact. I call it ‘activist giving.’” Sometimes the two work in tandem, especially at Temple Beth Am, where one of their kids attends private school, and for Miami Children’s Health System Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, where the Krys family served as the presenting sponsor at its 2018 Wine, Women & Shoes luncheon. (Juliana has volunteered with the organization for the past three years while Alex is working with the hospital’s senior management to create innovative programs.) They also volunteer independently, as Juliana does for Kristi House and its Project GOLD. She is chairing the nonprofit’s auction at its upcoming Celebration of Light gala in February and soon plans to keep the young victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking company while they await therapy appointments. “I’ll get in any way I can to directly help,” she says. “It’s time to bring this out of the darkness and shed some light on the issue. I’d like to take the shame away so people can start talking about this. You can have a direct impact on these kids and ultimately improve their lives.”

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