Community Voices

This student brought the gift of reading to children in Colombia

Isabella Ballesteros reads with the children of Subachoque near Bogotá, Colombia in a library space she created. She is on a mission to create small libraries in the area’s schools to create the “habit of reading.”
Isabella Ballesteros reads with the children of Subachoque near Bogotá, Colombia in a library space she created. She is on a mission to create small libraries in the area’s schools to create the “habit of reading.” Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Isabella Ballesteros, 17, is a senior at Miami Country Day School. She’s won numerous awards for her leadership and volunteerism. But she started out as a little girl who wanted to see other children laugh, play and learn like she did.

As a home-schooled student for five years, she and her family traveled to Subachoque, a small town in the countryside near Bogotá, Colombia. There she made friends and gradually became aware of the limited possibilities they had to have a better future.

“As I got older I realized that it is wonderful to have so many opportunities in life, but it’s even more wonderful to take advantage of those opportunities to help those who have dreams but do not have the tools to achieve them,” Isabella said in email.

She has created two libraries with the help of her family and school friends for the children of Subachoque. Two more libraries will be donated in February and July 2018.

“Since none of the schools in the area have a library, my goal is to donate as many libraries as I can and make a difference in their education,” Isabella said. “In Subachoque, the elementary schools are very small and one of my biggest concerns is that the children don’t have books to read, just the ones from their curriculum, which means that getting the habit of reading at such an important age is almost impossible.”

Helping the students create the habit of reading with daily access to books is her goal. She formed the Por Los Niños Foundation to create small libraries dedicated only to reading.

Her mom, Patty, said Isabella also wants to create a scholarship for those who graduate from high school, so a student can pursue a college education.

“These families, unfortunately, do not have the means to pay for a college education and no one before in these families has ever been able to go to college. We have already granted the first of this type of scholarship to a young woman that is pursuing a Business Administration major at one of the public universities in Colombia. She is continuing on to the second year of college that started in August 2017,” Patty Ballesteros said.

For six years, Isabella has been awarded volunteer service awards from her school and from the American Youth Foundation.

“Isabella collects school materials, toys and clothes at school, dental hygienic supplies through dental offices, and the funds that she collects to sponsor the annual field trip and build and supply the libraries are thanks to the generosity of family and friends,” her mom said.

When Isabella visits Subachoque there is a big celebration of reading as new books are delivered.

“I also want to give joy to the children. I want them to laugh, to play, to have fun. I want them to be able to enjoy their childhood, so every year thanks to the sponsorship of many generous people, all the kids from our group and their families enjoy a full day in a venue where the only thing they need to worry about is to have fun,” she said. “After so many years visiting the region I’m happy to call many of the children and their families my friends and I love them!”

To learn how you can donate and help, visit and email

Golf to help nonprofits

The Charity Classic, hosted by Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial Wealth Management, raised more than $150,000 in two years for nonprofits such as Make-a-Wish Foundation, Mount Sinai Children’s Medical Center and Miami Children’s Health Foundation.

This year, the 13th annual event will partner with the Coral Gables Community Foundation and the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. Community nonprofits that will benefit include the Coral Gables Museum, Coral Gables Art Cinema, St. Alban’s Child Enrichment Center, Pridelines, Make-a-Wish Southern Florida, Junior Orange Bowl and the Baptist Health Foundation.

Everyone can join in. The tournament will hold registration at 11 a.m. and start at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Biltmore Golf Course, 1200 Anastasia Ave. The format is “best ball” and there will be fun stops such as cigar rollings, beer tastings and massages along the way.

Cost for individual players is $400 and foursomes pay $1,500. This includes golf and cart fee, lunch, beverages, barbecue and player gift.

For more, contact Natalie Painter at 305-448-8882 ext. 239. And check out early sales until Nov. 15 at

Epilepsy Awareness Month

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, an annual period dedicated to educating individuals and communities about epilepsy. The Epilepsy Foundation of Florida hosted a fundraiser Oct. 19 in Miami with the theme “Unmasking Epilepsy.”

More than 130 attendees enjoyed the masquerade event that raised more than $53,000 to help individuals living with epilepsy. The group also honored members of our community with EFOF’s Champion of the Heart award.

“Every day, the fight against epilepsy — a disorder affecting more than 400,000 people in Florida — is ever-present,” said Karen Egozi, CEO of EFOF in email. “Through this event, it was our goal to help increase education and understanding of epilepsy within our communities, eliminating stigma and empowering those affected by it.”

To learn more about epilepsy and how you can help this Florida group, visit


Rachel Sapoznik, founder, CEO and president of Sapoznik Insurance in North Miami Beach, was named a finalist for the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business, in the Female Entrepreneur of the Year — Business Services — 11 to 2,500 Employees — All Other Industries, category.

More than 170 professionals worldwide who serve on five judging committees selected the finalists. The gold, silver and bronze winners will be announced at the Stevies’ 14th annual awards dinner Nov. 17 in New York.

“I am incredibly honored to be named a finalist for the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, especially as we celebrate our 30th anniversary,” said Sapoznik in email. “Thirty years ago, I took a huge leap and founded Sapoznik Insurance from my home. Today, we help companies around the country make health a priority without the fear of offering health insurance they cannot afford.”

Alhambra Orchestra

Support this community orchestra and bring family and friends to “The Silver Screen” family pops concert with guest conductor and film composer Nicolas Repetto at 4 p.m., Nov. 19, Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 Red Rd.

Current and classic film and video game themes will be performed including music from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Phantom of the Opera” and the video game “Uncharted.”

Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children available at the door, or in advance. Call 305-669-6990.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at