The 17th annual Samsung Charity Gala, held last week in New York City, drew an array of celebrities representing their philanthropic causes and other long-time charity partners of Samsung Electronics America dedicated to initiatives that provide children access to education, mentorship, life-saving medical treatment and the opportunity to gain leadership skills.
The evening raised $3 million for organizations like Pitbull’s SLAM Foundation, Jessica Seinfeld’s GOOD+ Foundation and the Ryan Seacrest Foundation while also shining a spotlight on all attendees as “Champions of Hope” for their work advocating for children, their families and their communities.
From Hollywood A-listers and professional athletes to everyday professionals driven to make a difference, Samsung’s annual gala attendees helped highlight what it means to forge hope by opening up to communities in need.
“When Samsung talks about wanting to inspire the world and create the future, it’s a vision that reaches beyond the boardroom,” said Tim Baxter, President and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America, in his opening remarks.
Walking the Red Carpet prior to the event, Fitz and the Tantrums lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick told the cameras, “For us we feel so blessed to be on the journey and have had all the success we’ve had as a band, so for Fitz and the Tantrums, anything we can do any time to give back, we’re there.”
Samsung, celebrating its 40th year in the U.S., has contributed over $75 million to charities, which has helped more than 2,600 schools, hospitals, and foundations throughout the U.S. since 2001.
“One of the best parts of my job is the platform I have to help others,” Baxter told the crowd. “It’s really a privilege to be able to deploy Samsung’s resources in order to change lives.” With that, the night kicked off with a series of performances, touching speeches and of course, charitable fundraising.
One of the gala highlights was the sheer amount of extraordinary organizations, an eclectic group of entertainers, Hollywood actors, and athletes who came to represent their Samsung-supported causes and the people they serve.
They included NFL star Victor Cruz, who spoke of his foundation’s efforts to provide STEM programs across the U.S. and highlighted a trip to Puerto Rico a week earlier to announce a donation to Solar Libre Puerto Rico, which Samsung matched in order to give a total of $120,000 to the organization working toward grid-independent community solar in areas devastated by Hurricane Maria last year.
Later on, Matthew McConaughey took the stage to represent the just keep livin foundation, which he runs with his wife Camila Alves, and implements after-school fitness and wellness programs that give their students the tools to live a healthier life. He also helped kick off the evening’s auction, lending his humor to encourage the crowd to donate. Other gala celeb guests in attendance included Rob Thomas and Marisol Thomas, representing the Sidewalk Angels Foundation, and actress Kristen Bell.
The night’s biggest emotional moment came when actress and activist Mariska Hargitay received the Samsung Champion of Hope Award for her Joyful Heart Foundation’s work, which helps heal and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
Her touching speech included remarks on Joyful Heart’s contribution. “What I am most proud of is the fact that from the beginning we have sent a steady message, a consistent message to survivors,” Hargitay told the audience. “We hear them, we believe them, and their healing is our priority.
The evening’s performances included an opening musical number by The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s Hamilton Education Program and a rocking set by Fitz and the Tantrums later on in the night. Finally, Pitbull helped close out the gala with a lively rendition of his biggest hits as he reminisced about taking his life “from a negative to a positive” with the dancing crowd.
“You’re looking at a first generation Cuban-American who didn’t graduate from high school, was never a trouble maker, and now we got 10 schools, close to 10,000 kids and the graduation rate at two schools is at 100 percent,” Pitbull said, referring to his foundation’s charter schools.
While the star-studded evening provided many memorable moments and laughs, the most important aspect was what it represented – embodied in the remarks of Gunnar Esiason, the inspiration behind his father’s foundation, the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which works to heighten awareness, education and quality of life for those affected by cystic fibrosis as Gunnar has lived with since he was diagnosed at the age of two.
Samsung Celebrates Giving Back
“Cystic Fibrosis is a respiratory illness. My lungs are basically filled with fluid and we spend three to four hours a day taking medications, doing physical therapies, inhaling medications, and then there’s also some of us that actually live with a feeding tube like I do,” Esiason explained. “The life expectancy for people with Cystic Fibrosis has gone up due in large part to partnerships like this with Samsung and what you guys have done for us to help us achieve our goal at the Boomer Esiason Foundation.”