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as told to brett graff | June 27, 2014 | People
As tickets go on sale for the coveted Make-a-Wish ball, Miami royalty Shareef Malnik reveals his passion for granting wishes for terminally ill children.
Joey with (FROM LEFT) his dad, Joseph Giordano; sister, Libby; and mom, also named Libby, posing with Gabrielle Anwar; Anwar’s daughter, Paisley Verea, and Malnik.
The owner of legendary Miami Beach steakhouse The Forge, Shareef Malnik, 56, has been prominently chairing the ball to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida for more than a decade. In that time, Malnik has helped raise the gala’s profits from $300,000 to $2 million; he recently earned recognition from the Make-A-Wish national chapter for his unique and effective fundraising. But finances aside, Malnik also dedicates his time and energy to some of the terminally ill children Make-A-Wish serves. Here, in his own words, Malnik opens up about everything from creating the Chairman’s Challenge to some of the wishes granted that are particularly meaningful to him.
“Make-A-Wish—which grants even the most far-reaching requests of terminally ill children—isn’t just my passion but rather part of my DNA. This year is my 10th year as chairman of our annual fundraising ball, but I’ve attended 18 out of the past 19 events. My dad, Al Malnik, is a lifetime benefactor. He introduced me not only to the Make-A-Wish Foundation but also to the concept of philanthropy. He instilled these values in me at a young age, and my dad’s been a great role model in this regard.
Shareef Malnik and Joey Giordano Jr., 8, who had his wish to go on a Disney cruise granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
About two years ago, I was asked to join the board of directors, and that’s given me the opportunity to contribute to other aspects of the foundation. For starters, I’ve been spending time with some of these kids. Take Joey Giordano Jr., who is 8 years old; his wish was to go on a Disney Cruise. It’s so easy to fall in love with these children—just look at him.
On another occasion, our president, Norman Wedderburn, called and asked me to represent Make-A-Wish and escort a child through a journey of having a wish fulfilled. She was flying into Miami to meet Adam Lambert. He would be performing at the Fontainebleau and they’d have lunch at Hakkasan. Adam’s enthusiasm for meeting this child was unmistakable. He didn’t just give her time and attention, but he was completely present for their conversation. He shared stories with her, and she told him that the only way she got through her time in the hospital— and the pain that accompanied those days—was his image on her pillow. I could see the tears well up in Adam’s eyes.
My involvement in the Make-A-Wish organization began as a passing comment I made over a casual lunch one day in Delray Beach, where my dad and I were dining with the late Nancy Strom, a founder of the group’s South Florida chapter. As a restaurateur, I can see a business turn before it actually happens; I have an innate sense. And while I knew the ball’s guests were generous, I noticed their kids and their grandkids weren’t coming. I felt that unless the local chapter of Make-A-Wish changed the geometry of the party—replacing the old-school orchestra, for example—challenging times would lie ahead. To stay relevant, things must change. I became the chair and decided immediately that this party has to be an unforgettable experience. Think taiko drummers on three levels, ladies pouring Champagne from the ceiling, fantasy forests.
Tyler Gutzmar’s wish to become a Miami Heat broadcaster was fulfilled by Make-A-Wish as he sat courtside with Tony Fiorentino and Eric Reid.
When working to raise dollars, we can’t follow stereotypes or worry about saving money at every turn. It doesn’t matter how much you spend; it matters how many wishes you grant. Our results have validated that theory. Those funds help more kids than ever.
Another thing that’s fueling this organization’s success is my idea of having the entire cost of the ball underwritten. That means 100 percent of funds we take in go toward wishes. I call it the Chairman’s Challenge, and my job was to get a group of 20 leaders in the community to contribute $25,000 each for five years. I wanted to put together an influential circle of people who had a commonality. These men and women are silent warriors, and they’re pillars, holding this ball up.
One couple, Todd and Kim Glaser, got involved without my even asking. They were sitting at my bar, and I was telling them about this endeavor. Kim whispered in Todd’s ear, and he looked up at me and said, ‘Yes, we’ll do it.’ All of these families inspire us at Make-A-Wish. We invite them to speak at meetings and events, and they remind us why we’re doing this. We get wrapped up in trying to succeed in fundraising, we worry about the metrics, but we can’t ever forget why it all matters.”
photography by justin namon