The 7th Annual Face Forward Gala, themed “Havana Nights,” is just around the corner featuring a musical performance by Grammy-winning artist Nelly to raise funds for pro bono reconstructive surgery for victims of severe domestic abuse. We sat down with founder Deborah Alessi to take about the event!
The annual gala is Face Forward’s most important fundraising and awareness event of the year, with a goal of raising over $500,000 to support those physically affected by domestic violence and human trafficking. Founded in 2007, Face Forward provides pro bono reconstructive surgery for victims of severe domestic abuse with funds raised supporting travel, aftercare and additional associated costs. Face Forward empowers survivors to leave behind physical scars and stigmas to ‘Face Forward’ to an infinite future!
The event will feature Cuban inspired cuisine by Top Chef Master Neil Frasier, a silent auction and live auction, and a celeb-packed red carpet. We sat down with Co-Founder Deborah Alessi to discuss what inspires her and her husband, plastic surgeon David Alessi.
PPLA: Tell us about what inspires you to keep doing the work of Face Forward year after year?
DA: My passion for helping this cause stems from personal and professional experience. Having undergone domestic violence and survived, being able to become a beam of hope for our patients to help them rebuild after their incidents, gives me a missionary zeal to continue to do what I do. Having a great support system and an amazing team undoubtedly helps keep my momentum. Inspiration comes from seeing us all hard at work symbiotically–a beautiful running organism with a powerful cause.
PPLA: Your annual gala is coming up, what can we expect this year with the ‘Havana Nights’ theme?
DA: The amount of support we have rounded up this year is uncanny. As young as we are in this non-profit sector, our gala just gets better every year; and I’m not just saying that because I am organizing it but because our dear friends, patients, colleagues, family members, staff have all pulled to bring us Grammy award winning artists, the Hollywood elite, international icons and the entrepreneurial gurus that would make any gala a social highlight. Hosted at the breathtaking Vibiana in Downtown Los Angeles, our Havana Nights theme promises to keep the ambiance passionately vibrant as we celebrate this years’ accomplishments and prepare for the next. This year, we are honored to have Grammy award winner Nelly as a headliner, live dance performances by Nia Peeples and Dark Tide Productions among others, celebrity honorees including Hikmat Al Kaitoob our new Face Forward Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates, former Lakers Coach Byron Scott, Actress and Advocate Shantel Jackson and our resilient patient survivors.
Our annual auction also promises shock and awe this year as it has done in years past. Some items included but are not limited to exotic getaways in the Maldives, relaxing stays at 5 star Waldorf Astoria, private flights, wine tastings, shopping sprees, beauty baskets, Lakers, Dodgers, Kings tickets and sports memorabilia and so much more! Our gala will also have a cigar lounge and endless top shelf rum and wines. We thought about every detail to create a real Havana feel, all in celebration of our survivors!
PPLA: How important is fundraising at this event to the work you do? What are your fundraising goals this year?
DA: Like any other non-profit, fundraising is fundamental to our organization. Our upcoming gala is the premier source of funding for our patients. Generous donations help us push the boundaries of our outreach. We have grown internationally, and this year we are working with six new foreign cases awaiting procedures. As you know, Face Forward provides pro-bono reconstructive surgery for men, women and children who have been victim to domestic violence, human trafficking and other heinous crimes. Our organization covers the entire cost of patient travel, accommodations, and therapy, both pre and post-surgery. We hope to raise over $500K this year…and I rest confident that we will be able to reach this milestone so that we can move on to the 1 million dollar mark in the coming years!
PPLA: Who are the event sponsors at this year’s gala?
DA: This year we’ve already graciously gained support from members of our Beverly Hills Community and around the world including Etihad Airways, Roberto Cavalli, Alessi Institute, Niyama Per Aquum Maldives, Mont Blac Executive Car Service, Ameriprise Financial and Torrey Pines Bank. Our donor list keeps growing as the days go on and we would like to thank them all for their confidence in us and our work.
PPLA: Where do you see Face Forward going/expanding in the next few years? We see our network continuing to expand internationally. Already we have been fortunate enough to be moving in this direction but building upon this requires stronger coalitions with other organizations that do similar work. My team and I are working on such exposure. In Dubai, we have partnered with the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, and I recently became a member of the Dubai Business Women’s Council DBWC to grow my knowledge among female visionaries. Similarly, we continue to reach out to local and international organizations that we can and have partnered with for new patients or covered services. As a matter of fact, Face Forward’s first trafficking patient ever was a referral from an organization called Journey Out based here in Los Angeles. Our hope is to maximize our outreach as we increase our coalitions.
PPLA: Can you share any recent success stories with us?
DA: Wow, do we have some stories. I’ll start with some recent ones. Just a couple weeks ago, Dr. Alessi performed surgery on our newest survivor Lisa, who was brutally assaulted and stabbed nearly 20 times by her ex-boyfriend. The week following brought us Renee, held captive, tortured and brutally assaulted, having her nose broken 5 times by the father of her children. These, and so many other survivors, are the reason we exist today. These women, as all of our survivors sign a contract with us to continue therapy, advocacy, and self-improvement goals post-surgery. For many of them, this includes going back to school, moving and picking up the life they thought was doomed to exile and pain. All of our cases have these results. We as an organization set that goal precisely for that reason. We help them Face Forward.
PPLA: Who are some of your biggest supporters in Hollywood?
DA: Our honorary board members include some high profile Hollywood celebs like Sharon Stone, Tom Arnold, Lana Parrilla, Nelly, Kristin Bauer Van Straten, Missi Pyle, Shohreh Aghdashiloo, Shane Mosley, Shaun Toub, Anna Silk, Jennifer Collidge, Brett Dalton, and have also been very supportive in years past. All beautiful people.
PPLA: Anything else you want our fans to know about your charity?
DA: We are local, hard-working, and ambitious as an organization always looking for ways to better ourselves and redefine this fight for justice. We give our survivors a hand up, not a hand out, to help them move forward with their lives and to do great things. With community and global support we will continue to grow and help aid even more survivors from around the world. In the coming months we will also be targeting support to survivors of the Pulse shooting attacks in Orlando, these cases fall under the “cruel acts of crime” portion of our mission and we hope to be able to aid these survivors on their continued path to recovery as well. Face Forward is doing BIG things and we are excited at the continued growth of our organization.
Visit Face Forward LA to get involved.