Project: New Born To Host Epicurean Fundraising Event

With an eye toward raising money and awareness to help provide the very best care for some of our area’s tiniest babies, Schatzi Kassal is once again rallying friends and colleagues to help support the mission she has pursued for 41 years. In 1973, Kassal and six of her closest friends founded Project: New Born, a nonprofit, philanthropic organization devoted to raising funds to help premature and high-risk infants.

Since then, Kassal, with the help of the Seven Founding Babes of Project: New Born and a team of dedicated volunteers, has transformed the group into a dynamic force for advocacy and assistance, raising millions of dollars to help maintain and support the Schatzi Kassal Project: New Born Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. The center was renamed in her honor in 2010, in gratitude for her tireless fundraising efforts.

On October 25, 500 people or more are expected to turn out for the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Project: New Born event – “We’re Rockin’ Baby!” – an elegant gourmet experience presented by Crown Wine and Spirits and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Big 105.9 D.J. Paul Castronovo will emcee the event, and entertainment will be provided by the “Manaquartet” and the top 40 band “The Clique.” The evening kicks off at 7 p.m. in the Hollywood Hard Rock Grand Ballroom.

“We need as many people as possible to come join us,” said Kassal, who is heading a multigenerational family effort to chair the event. Daughter Bonnie Blank and granddaughter Danielle Blank are the co-chairs.

The evening will include a wine reception, featuring more than 100 fine wines, hors d’oeuvres, and a silent auction offering collectible wines, vacation packages, art, dining experiences, jewelry, and fashions from the Bal Harbour Shops, in conjunction with The Webster.

The reception will be followed by a four-course, epicurean dinner, paired with select wines, top-shelf open bar, champagne lounge, live music, and dancing. For a sweet finish, guests will enjoy signature desserts created by 15 of South Florida’s finest chefs.

“It’ll be a good time for a wonderful cause,” said Danielle. “Project: New Born is known to throw a great party.”

Proceeds from “We’re Rockin’ Baby!” will go toward renovation and equipment for the NICU and to support research in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Neonatology. This is the organization’s latest endeavor to enhance the state-of-the-art care currently provided to patients. In 2005, they also helped fund the first stage of renovations to the unit.

Project: New Born’s mission is to create public awareness of the need for better neonatal care and to provide the best possible care of infants with special problems. Kassal’s passion for the cause was sparked by the birth of her third child, Bubba, and subsequent care he received from staff members, including Marc Rowe, M.D., then the Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital. At that time, neonatal intensive care units were unheard of and babies born before term did not have access to specialized attention and procedures to help them survive.

Having seen firsthand the need to improve care, Kassal and her late husband, Stanley, gathered 100 friends and asked them to donate $250 each to help sponsor Rowe’s research.

Since then, Project: New Born has raised an estimated $17 million and boasts at least 1,500 active members in its membership groups, which include the Banyan Society, the Tiffany Society, the Young Professional Organization, and general membership. Funds are raised for research and equipment, subsidizing salaries of key personnel, and supporting advocacy programs that foster the well-being of premature and high-risk infants.

Kassal says it is a far cry from how Project: New Born began, with just seven tiny premature babies in a hospital room on the second floor of Jackson Memorial, with basic incubators and poorly adapted adult ventilators. Thanks to the efforts of Project: New Born, and teams of dedicated doctors, nurses, and researchers, the neonatal program at Holtz has been ranked for the past several years among the best 35 NICUs in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. The unit consists of 126 beds, including the Phyllis Simon Special Care Unit, plus a referral unit expressly for preemies requiring extremely complicated procedures.

In addition to the renovation of the nurseries, Project: New Born has established a “Parenting Your Preemie” program and endowed a Distinguished Chair in Neonatology, in honor of Eduardo Bancalari, M.D., the Director of the Division of Neonatology.

“The unwavering support of Project: New Born has helped the UM-JMH NICU become one of the leading neonatal programs in the country, with clinical outcomes that are equal to or even better than those of the premier NICUs throughout the world,” said Bancalari, who is also professor of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology. “Project: New Born has supported patient care, but perhaps more importantly has played a crucial role in the development of an outstanding basic and translational research laboratory. Research taking place in this laboratory is leading to new methods to prevent and treat some of the most devastating complications of prematurity, which will improve outcomes and provide a brighter future for critically ill newborns around the world.”

For more information on the October 25 “We’re Rockin’ Baby!” event, including registration details, visit

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