Anatomy of a Philanthropist's HeartFriday, October 24, 2008
By Sergio Leon
Photographed by Patty Daniels
Hair & Makeup by Jorge Pastor, Rik Rak Salon
Philanthropist Lisa Pliner is well known for her glamorous looks, for being the inspiring muse and model of her husband's collection of shoes, and for her outgoing and pleasant personality; but above all, for her devoted involvement with charity to benefit children in every way imaginable. Her extensive charitable endeavors add up to starting along with her husband, The Toe Box Foundation for the Miami City Ballet, her active participation in the Make-Wish Foundation, The Humane Society, and Jackson Memorial Children's Hospital to mention just a few.
Lisa did not wake up one day and decide to become a celeb philanthropist. She always felt an innate love for children and a drive for the cause of helping them grow peacefully and happily. For reasons of the heart, this motherly feeling for the most vulnerable members of society grew even bigger and stronger after Lisa lost her own child at birth. This traumatizing experience exposed her to excruciating pain, sorrow, and frustration; however, Lisa evolved in her understanding of the role the universe had in store for her: Becoming the mother of not just one child, but of millions of children in need. "Donald and I always had a soft heart for charity; we always love donating whether it be shoes or clothes for Dress for Success or for many other causes. The loss of my child and later the adoption process, which is a whole different experience, made me want to go out there and Give! Give! Give!" exclaimed Lisa.
The decision to adopt her baby daughter Starr Emmanuelle from an orphanage in Kazakhstan three years ago added to the compassion she felt for all these children who were living in inhumane conditions in a country at war. From that feeling grew Peace For The Children Foundation, a nonprofit organization, founded by Donald and Lisa. The foundation is funded with proceeds from their collections. Every time an item with the peace sign is sold, the Pliners donate a percentage to the foundation. In addition, DJP retail stores donate 10 percent of the total sales to the foundation from each of Donald's personal in-store appearances. Since the foundation was created, the Pliners have made this commitment another of their passions. Channeling resources and support to initiatives that advance peace, care, and welfare to children in need is at the center of their mission for charity.
"My life completely changed when I went to Kazakhstan and saw all those children who could not even enjoy playing outside. I chose my daughter, but some of these kids will never be adopted. Everyone in this country should see the extreme poverty there is where Starr was born. We have our freedom in America, but in many other countries, kids grow up deprived of many things that could make their lives better. So we wanted to help kids in this situation, and also in America, to have a better life by providing whatever would bring quality to their lives, and have fun in the process. Doing charity work makes you appreciate life more," admits Lisa with a splendid smile.
Out of her visit to Kazakhstan, another noble idea to improve the lives of children surfaced. Lisa and Donald wanted to create a sanctuary for children where they could enjoy themselves. This past March, Peace For The Children Foundation partnered up with KaBOOM! To build a fairy tale-like playground that will be designed based on selected drawings submitted by children at the Miami Children's Museum. "We are in the process of designing T-shirts, jewelry, hats... you name it... for a big charity event to be held at the M.C.M. once the playground is built. I'm very excited to be part of this project. The museum is one of my daughter's favorite spots, and mine too."
Recently, Lisa has adopted a new baby. The years she has spent as a model in the shoe business for her husband heightened her skills as a shoe designer. She is now ready to launch her own high-end line of shoes for women, which she carefully put together from the logo to the heel. "I basically kept what Donald is all about with his shoes: comfort. But making it a point they will be very sexy and high. I went through our archives and selected some of our best shoes that will never go out of style and added real alligator skin, also beads and jewels here and there. I did some in gold, silver, and in other metallic colors. I sexed it up! And to be in tone with today's concern about a greener world, they will have green soles, so that people feel good walking on green. All in all, I gave them my touch and got very high compliments from Donald. And of course, like with everything else, a portion of the profits will go to our foundation. I'm not competing with my husband. We are still a team," adds Mrs. Pliner.
This modern Superwoman's fiery passion for charity does not seem to run out of fuel. Her striking appearances at charity events, whether it is Cure Autism Now or The Humane Society of Greater Miami - escorted by her pet, Babydoll - are always in the name of a cause. In addition to being a mom, a fashionista, and a wife, Lisa has added a few projects to her dossier lately. She is currently working on a children's book with writer, Hene Hochberg. And if all this weren't enough, she has gotten together with friend Julienne Jacobson to put a Mommy & Me lipstick kit together for the inauguration of the playground. "These days, Starr and I are having a lot of fun decorating a little pony we will donate for the cure of leukemia; we both know that this is going to help a child who's very sick. When it comes to being creative to benefit a child, I love giving my time always. The passion for charity has to come from within you. That's what makes you who you are. Making a child happy is my greatest joy," Lisa concludes.