On a recent balmy Saturday night, several blocks south of city hall in downtown Coral Gables were barricaded against traffic. Instead of cars cruising around the Biltmore Way roundabout, canopied tables, chairs and tents filled with delightful dishes and wines welcomed guests at the “Party in the Park.”
Presented by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and sponsored by Bacardi, the inaugural fundraiser event benefited The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
“I don’t care for myself really, I am adjusted,” said 28-year-old part-time Buoniconti Fund staff member Ernesto Velazquez as he sat enjoying the cool sunset breeze with cousin Henry Fonseca. “It’s to help the kids and give them a chance to walk again.”
Confined to a wheelchair since being hit by a drunk driver at 10 years old, Velazquez seems to be a wise old (handsome and selfpossessed) soul in his elegant black dress shirt and military crew cut with detailed tattoo art along his biceps. “One of the most ironic things to me is that the guy who picked me up off the street is a paraplegic today as a result of drunk driving as well,” said Velazquez, who spent a month in a coma after the accident and calls himself a survivor who does not dwell on the past. “I live life to the fullest. I am a survivor. I don’t let things bring me down. I have family and friends to keep me up.”
The Buoniconti Fund logo is a silhouette series of a stick-figure in a wheelchair standing up to walk in five progressively sketched frames. Event chairman Marc Buoniconti, president of The Buoniconti Fund and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, says it has always been the support of family and friends that helped him get through the tough times after his accident on a football field in Tennessee.
“I rely on my family and friends to get me through the hard times,” said Buoniconti. “I am so humbled by the support of everyone that has come out to help me and help the cause. There couldn’t be a better place for us to have our inaugural event, in front of city hall in my hometown of Coral Gables. It’s great to be with my community and to raise money for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.”
Friends of the Buoniconti family and event sponsors attorney Steve Coxhead and his artist wife Lu said they are thrilled to be a part of cutting edge changes in medical science that will affect millions of lives.
“It is like people must have felt in the 1960s during the moon launch,” said Steve Coxhead. “Not very often in life is one exposed to the very cutting edge of science that will touch millions of lives and allow hundreds of people to be able to walk again.”
For more information, call 305- 243-3863 or visit www.thebuonicontifund.com.