It started in 2011 with a visit by Marc Anthony to an orphanage in Dominican Republic. The home, Fundacion Niño de Cristo, which housed 50 boys, had long been a pet project of Anthony’s good friend and longtime concert promoter, Henry Cárdenas — owner of CMN, the leading Latin concert promotion company in the country — and his wife Elena Sotomayor.
Their involvement led them to take Anthony there during a Christmas holiday. He was enchanted.
“We would always talk about this orphanage that Henry had supported for over 10 years,” Anthony told Billboard in 2014. “And I came for Christmas, I had a staff party, and my whole staff was here, and they bought all kinds of toys and sneakers and stuff for the kids. And I walked into the orphanage and saw those kids and I was just shocked. It impacted me. I instantly looked at Henry and said, ‘We need to do something.’ We built a five-acre compound for the kids, and they each have their own bed, their own closet. It’s so important for their dignity to have their own things. So we built this orphanage. We did it. We built it in less than a year.”
From that single orphanage, Maestro Cares was born. The foundation, a partnership between Cárdenas and Anthony, is a rare example of philanthropy in perpetual, concrete action in a very short time. Conceived with the goal of improving quality of life for orphaned and disadvantaged children in Latin America and the U.S., Maestro Cares has already built or funded 11 projects in five countries, raising over $10 million.
“Our advantage is, we build,” says the blunt-spoken Cárdenas. “You can go touch it and feel it. You can concretely see what we do.”
On Thursday, Maestro Cares will hold its annual fundraising gala in New York City, this time honoring Deepak Chopra, fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez and Inter-American Development Bank president Luis Alberto Moreno. Cárdenas spoke with us about the foundation’s upcoming projects and the secrets to its success. For more information on Maestro Cares, visit MaestroCares.org.
What is the purpose of your gala?
It allows people who support us to come and see what we’ve done. We want to show them the three projects we finished this year and announce the next ones. And of course, we want to raise funds. Most of the people that come to the gala have been supporting us since our inception, and they even come to our openings. Our advantage is we build. You can go touch it and feel it. Here, you can concretely see what we do.
What have you done in the past 12 months?
We finished Hogar San Miguel in Ponce, Puerto Rico, which houses 20 special-needs children. It was a little destroyed by Hurricane Maria, and we already raised the funds to build it up again. We finished a community center in the mountains of Guatemala, and it has everything you can imagine: sports center, infirmary, day care. Parents drop off their kids in the morning and pick them up at night. We serve 70 children. And in Guadalajara, Mexico, we’re finishing an orphanage that will house over 120 girls, like the one we have in Toluca.
Where does your revenue come from?
Every concert we do — Nicky Jam, Ricardo Arjona, Maluma, Bad Bunny, Alejandro Fernandez, all these superstars — they allow us to charge $1 or $2 extra, and that goes to Maestro Cares. We have three major revenue streams: The gala, what we add to each concert ticket sold by CMN [with the artist’s approval, of course] and what Marc does. For example, every single concert Marc plays, we do a raffle for the chance to win a meet-and-greet with Marc, and people pay to participate.
This is a Marc-Henry project, isn’t it?
Yes. I started with Marc and we’ve done it together ever since. I took Marc to where the kids lived in Dominican Republic. It was a little three-bedroom home for 50 kids. And Marc said, “What can we do?” I said, “Let’s build a place!” I created the foundation, Marc gave us a concert at Barclays, we got support from Goya, and we raised $2 million. And we thought that was it. But then some people from Colombia loved it and said they wanted to replicate it in Barranquilla. So we did another orphanage, and now, we’re hooked. We’ve raised over $10 million and built 11 projects.
What’s next for Maestro?
This year we’re opening up in El Salvador. We’re doing a couple of major projects in Cali, Colombia, and we’re signing a contract for Chile. It grows every year. I could do 20 projects a year, but I have to run CMN, although I enjoy philanthropy more than anything. I work with people in need, and giving is better than receiving. When you get a smile back, it’s priceless.