John “Gungie” Rivera is considered one of the finest “conductors” in the music and nightlife space. His journey began in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx while witnessing the way music always brought his family together.
“Gungie”, the first word that was ever uttered out of his mouth, became his moniker early on. The name also became synonymous with introducing various venues to the masses so they could enjoy new genres of music in hip-hop and freestyle.
John “Gungie” Rivera started his career as a DJ, introducing the world to the classics we enjoy today. His passion for music and bringing people together quickly led him to becoming one of the most sought-after nightclub promoters in New York City history.
Beginning his journey in the late 1980’s, “Gungie” would dominate the nightclub scene for three decades. That path would place him as the “Go-To” if you needed your record played, your band put on a stage, or wanted the best entertainment experience New York had to offer.
“Gungie”, never satisfied with complacency, transitioned over to becoming a well-respected Music Industry executive, producing hits and eventually landing his own recording label, “Prestigio”, under the Sony Discos umbrella. “Gungie” struck immediate gold as label CEO when his first artist introduced under the “Prestigio” title became the fastest selling independent artist in Sony Discos Distributed Label history to go Gold.
“Gungie” tied all of his contributions together when he formed Prestige Productions, which boasted industry-leading clients from television, radio, and Corporate America. Prestige Productions also became one of the largest concert promoters in the Latin and urban genres in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Japan.
Despite all the success and accolades that “Gungie” has achieved, his most rewarding achievement is to give back to the community and youth.
When the political world approached “Gungie’s” company to engage a younger demographic to vote and understand the issues that are impacting our youth, he leveraged the power of music and created “Salsa the Vote”. The campaign empowered our youth and involved them in decisions that affected their future. “Gungie” also organized marketing and fundraising campaigns for the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club, produced the annual galas for Promesa Foundation, and was part of a Latino division for the charitable organization LIFEBeat.
Out of his love for the arts and cultural engagement, “Gungie” has done work for the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and co-produced plays for Teatro SEA, a bilingual non-profit organization founded in Puerto Rico that produces socially conscious and educational productions for children and young adults. Some of the company’s famous plays include The Roberto Clemente DC-7 playas well as La Gloria, a play honoring the life of Celia Cruz and other iconic Latin singers.
Today, John “Gungie” Rivera presides over the Cristian Rivera Foundation. Rivera lost his six-year-old son, Cristian, to a rare brain stem tumor known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) in 2009. The disease primarily affects children under the age of 9 and there is currently no cure for this inoperable cancer. “Ever since Cristian passed away, I have committed myself to help find a cure for this deadly disease,” said Rivera. “My hope is that no other family would have to go through the grief of losing a beloved child.”
Rivera has dedicated himself to finding a cure for DIPG and has assembled a high-profile committee to help him achieve his goals. Inspired by his son Cristian’s positive and encouraging spirit, “Gungie” authored and published his first children’s book entitled Cristian’s Journey to spread Cristian’s message of benevolence and love despite tragic circumstances. Among the hundreds of partnerships, projects and businesses that Rivera has been involved with, it is his children, Cristian, John Christopher and Sophia that bring him the most joy and remain the most important part of his life. Hard work and discipline have made Rivera successful, but it is happiness that has kept him going. Over the course of his career, Rivera has left an indelible mark on the nightclub, concert and record markets. With the Cristian Rivera Foundation, he is poised to change the world.
“I started the Cristian Rivera Foundation because no parent should have to bury their child, let alone watch them suffer a horrific death at the hands of a DIPG tumor. You suffer in pain. You and your family can only watch the devastation, as DIPG robs your child from enjoying a normal life. It takes their ability to walk, talk, eat, and move. A once vibrant, healthy child rapidly deteriorates before your eyes and within 3 to 18 months, their battle is lost, depriving them of their dreams.
Watching Cristian battle DIPG gave me the impetus to fight and help eradicate DIPG from our world. After experiencing the grief of losing your child in such a horrific way, it’s easy to give up hope. I’ve decided to dedicate my life so that other families will not have to experience the pain that I did or feel like they’re alone. My hope is that children diagnosed with DIPG will have a chance to fight and to live.”
“I am truly humbled and honored to be a part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation family. What the Foundation is doing to raise awareness and to help find a cure for DIPG is inspiring. No parent should ever have to see their child suffer, no parent should ever lose hope of finding a cure or treatment that will prolong their child’s beautiful life, and certainly, no parent should be put in a situation where they feel alone and cannot afford the necessary treatment to save their child. I joined this all-too-important organization because of my love for children – our future – because their lives matter, and because I believe in the strength and power of collaboration and unity. Together we can and we will make a difference. Full Steam Ahead!”
Melinda Colon Cox grew up in Rutherford, New Jersey. Her parents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to the U.S. where she lived between Jersey City and Middlesex County for many years. Today Melinda is married to her husband Kevin and is a dedicated mother to her 2.5 year old son Logan. Melinda attended Union College where she received her Bachelors in Political Science and subsequently obtained her Juris Doctorate Degree at the Rutgers School of Law. Following her education, she became an attorney at the national law firm, Parker Ibrahim & Berg where she was their first associate as well as their first woman partner. She celebrated 10 years working for the acclaimed firm in October 2020. As a litigator she represents the commercial side including businesses of all sizes with a special focus on representing banks, mortgage lenders, and the financial industry. Having reached a great amount of success within her industry, Melinda is passionate about promoting and developing the advancement of other Latinxs in the legal profession and finds passion in helping others in need. She served as the 40th President of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey and is a recipient of several state and national awards, many of which are based on her commitment to diversity and inclusion. It was through the Hispanic Bar Association that Melinda met Carlos Yepez, who serves on the Cristian Rivera Foundation Board of Directors. After developing a great friendship with Carlos, he invited Melinda to the 11th Annual CRF Celebrity Gala in 2019. Melinda expressed that “It was an amazing event. I was immediately touched by all of the stories I heard and witnessed John getting incredibly personal about his experience with DIPG. It was honestly beautiful. I think I was in tears the entire time because it’s such a passionate group.” After experiencing the gala and being introduced to founder John “Gungie” Rivera and CRF Director Sarde Laurente, it was clear that Melinda would make an exceptional Board Member. Her love for families and determination to make a difference was palpable and after great fundraising success with the Hispanic Bar Association we were all confident and excited to see what we would be able to accomplish together. As one of the newer Board Members of the foundation, Melinda commented that,“CRF is unique from other organizations because they are clearly pushing the envelope by focusing heavily on experimental treatment in order to ensure that each kid has a chance. The foundation does this while also helping families financially. DIPG is such a significant and life-changing event for a child and their family. You’re dealing with the brain tumor, the pain, and then the emotion. I do appreciate that CRF is working to ease the financial burden for families because that’s the last thing they should have to worry about. In addition, John meets with the families he cares and he’s experienced it himself. It’s a unique perspective. We’re doing a lot because he clearly cares and the board cares.” Receiving a DIPG diagnosis is an experience so unique that we find it important to connect families together whenever possible – to find people who can relate with one another. But what Melinda has found memorable in her short time as a board member thus far, is how much people are willing to help even though they have never heard of DIPG before and have no idea how it feels. “I started a Facebook fundraiser to help with Emiliano’s clinical trial a few months ago and I was overwhelmed to see the amount of support people were giving. They don’t know him, all they know is he’s a little boy in need and people wanted to help. That was very moving. Within, I was able to surpass my fundraising goal. When it comes to children, no one wants to see a child suffer,” said Melinda. After seeing such a wonderful outpouring of support, Melinda set her own personal goals as a board member to spread knowledge and educate her own tribe and network. “I never heard of DIPG. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what signs to look for. Over time, I learned that DIPG has impacted a few people in my own network and realized that education is important. I want to help with fundraising and it’s not just about money, but it is. We need money for research and to be able to spread that awareness and help families. I’m hoping to use my network to help bring people in and elevate and expand our reach,” said Melinda. When asked what other qualities a good board member should possess Melinda said that, “Every board member has to have a sense of loyalty and dedication to the foundation’s mission and be committed to spreading information, spreading knowledge, and networking. It all comes down to dedication and commitment which will bring along all the other branches necessary to making this a successful group.” Spreading awareness is truly what empowers our ability to increase funding for research and help more families. The more people know, the more we grow. Melinda specifically hopes to see the Cristian Rivera Foundation grow by obtaining more corporate sponsors as well as annual sponsorships. With the nation opening up, she would also love to see more fundraising events organized and looks forward to hosting her own event in the near future. When asked what success means to her, Melinda said, “Personal success is being happy with my family and being able to support and spend time with them. Family is everything. Work is important but it’s not the most important thing. I want to be at a place where we are all healthy, happy, and financially stable. The pandemic has been hard on everyone. This year more than ever has taught me that family is most important.” In terms of the foundation, Melinda finds that simply helping one child and letting that grow and elevate is a success in itself. “If we extend a child’s life at all, whether it’s one day, a few months, or a few years, that is a success. It’s important to take it one step at a time and celebrate the milestones. Health and research can be daunting because we’ve lost beautiful children that didn’t deserve to go through what they did. Celebrating milestones is important because it helps us keep our eyes on the progress that is continuing to be made”. Melinda, we are so excited to see the developments that will be made through your involvement with our organization. Full Steam Ahead!
Award-winning journalist Darlene Rodriguez is co-anchor of Today in New York which airs weekday mornings on NBC 4 New York from 4:30 to 7 a.m. Rodriguez has anchored multiple Emmy-winning broadcasts, served as a newsreader on Weekend Today and is a frequent contributor to the Today Show.
Rodriguez joined WNBC from WCBS NewsRadio 88 where she was a general assignment reporter for four years. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter for Bronxnet cable television for a year where she covered some of the most compelling stories about the borough’s politics, growth and renaissance.
Since joining NBC 4, Rodriguez has covered numerous breaking news stories throughout the city including filing multiple reports on the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, and coverage of the crash of Flight 587 en route to the Dominican Republic. She was the first television reporter in New York on the scene in Vieques, Puerto Rico when news broke about the clashes between residents and the U.S. Navy, and then she returned four times to cover the resulting developments. In addition, Rodriguez traveled to Rome to cover Pope John Paul II’s meeting with U.S. Cardinals regarding the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal.
Recently, one of Rodriguez’s stories, which appeared on the Today Show, was nominated for a national GLAAD award.
In 2011, Rodriguez was the recipient of the “Mujeres Destacadas (Distinguished Women) Award” from El Diario La Prensa. Rodriguez earned a “Latina Excellence” Award in 2000 from Hispanic Magazine for her coverage of the Hispanic community. She was also honored by both the City of New York and the town of White Plans for prominently and proudly representing the Hispanic community in her work.
Rodriguez is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Hudson Valley and supports the Cristian Rivera Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for a rare fatal brain tumor in young children. In addition, Rodriguez has worked extensively with the American Heart Association of Westchester.
Rodriguez graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science.
She resides in Westchester with her husband and their family.
“In my quest for making a conscious effort of paying it forward throughout my entire adult life, I always felt it was important to focus on mothers and children. Perhaps being a single mom, I recognized how easily we can be challenged with the necessities we want to provide for our children and so as I moved ahead with launching a philanthropic organization. I continued looking around and reading up on so many charities. I had never heard of DIPG and when I came across Cristian’s story and the Cristian Rivera Foundation I was touched and decided to attend an event and familiarize myself with the people, the focus, and the initiative. John was so gracious and I had the opportunity to speak with him. He was so incredibly genuine about wanting to help other families and children from suffering. He genuinely wants to save lives. I couldn’t help but want to help him. Help him create more awareness about this terrible disease and help to raise funds to ultimately save more children’s lives. Every child is a shining star. A hope for the future, each one has a dream and they should have the chance to live out their dreams. We need to keep our future bright by giving every little star the chance to live and shine for as long as possible. They make our lives brighter. We owe them.”
Board Member Spotlight:
Rena Kliot is a fairly new, but proud Board Member of the Cristian Rivera Foundation. She is the founder of the Diva’s, which is a group of female business leaders who focus on philanthropy. Through Diva’s, each member chooses a charity and hosts an event which other members and friends attend to support the organization. While researching different philanthropies related to children, Rena came across the Cristian Rivera Foundation. After discovering CRF, she learned that the 11th Annual Celebrity Gala would be coming up soon. After being touched by Cristian’s story and interested in learning more about the foundation, Rena purchased two tickets on a whim, even though she didn’t know anyone who would be attending. Since Rena has an outgoing personality, loves networking, and makes friends wherever she goes, she was confident that going to the gala would be a great time. After winning a Jets helmet through the gala’s silent auction, Rena connected with our founder John “Gungie” Rivera. As a new face, John wanted to learn more about her and why she decided to attend the event. They quickly formed a strong bond and shortly after, John asked Rena to become a board member which she was honored to accept. Even though she’s only been a part of this foundation for a little over a year, Rena has already made impactful memories as a board member. “With all of the things he (John) has on his plate, he still makes this so personal.” Due to COVID-19, Rena’s best memories are from virtual events, but she’s very excited for in-person events in the future. When CRF had to convert their Annual Full Steam Ahead 5K to a virtual event in July of 2020, Rena was in Miami at the time. She was able to gather a whole group of her friends and colleagues to walk with her in support of the foundation and united with others all across the nation against DIPG. Rena also attended a dinner where she met with John, our Director Sarde Laurente, and other new board members. She is really looking forward to meeting and getting to know the rest of the members of the board. Rena works at Pulse International Realty and owns real estate brokerages in Miami and New York. While realty is not where she thought she was going to be, she loves it and has a deep passion for it. Rena is very close with her family and holds them close to her heart. She has 2 sons who are huge Jets and Giants fans. Rena has several passions including working out, boxing, singing, and family. She is also very passionate about empowering women and children. Her passion for philanthropy stems from the idea that, “People don’t realize you can lose everything in a blink of an eye”. One aspect of CRF that Rena values is how the foundation assists families affected by DIPG in many ways, while also funding important DIPG research. 2020 alone caused a financial burden on thousands, so to add medical bills on top of that creates more stress. “The fact that we focus on the families as well goes to show how personal this organization is. It’s thinking about the details that so many other foundations don’t even touch on. I’m so proud of it.” Rena has several goals as a CRF board member. She would love to double what she raised this year and also become more hands-on with the foundation. With the Coronavirus crisis, this was hard to do in her first year. She looks forward to , “Putting together some exciting fundraising opportunities where we can really interact and mingle.” Rena would love to see the foundation grow and bring as much awareness to DIPG as possible. Like many people, Rena had never heard about DIPG before and believes that spreading awareness is crucial to finding a cure. “We need more exposure, make more people aware of the existence of DIPG, and educate them about what it is”. A big part of spreading awareness is also sharing the progress that has been made and celebrating the success stories within the DIPG community. Rena is so proud that CRF was a part of saving Lisha Ayala’s life. Lisha was one of the patients from Dr. Mark Souweidane’s clinical trial, and has survived DIPG for more than 7 years now. Rena is confident in the work CRF is doing because she has said that, “the next child we save could be the child that cures DIPG.” Due to COVID-19, Rena was unfortunately not able to meet any of the children or families, but is constantly fighting alongside them in spirit. When asked what success looks like to her, Rena said “success is achieving any goal you set out for yourself.” She believes in creating short-term goals because each one brings you to closer to the next. “Achieve your short-term goals and you’ll always feel successful. You can make them broader and feel good about yourself. If you’re beating yourself up, you’re not going to be successful with anything because you’re too busy weighing yourself down.” Rena believes in paying it forward and that if you’re able to achieve what you want and help someone else, then you’re successful. We are so thankful for everything Rena has done for the foundation so far and cannot wait to see what’s in store for the future.
“I had never heard of Pontine Glioma until John’s son, Cristian, was diagnosed with this disease. I believe the Cristian Rivera Foundation will bring great awareness to this terrible illness. It is my honor to be part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation and help bring upon an understanding to this understated and implicit disease. I’ve known John “Gungie” Rivera for many years and although I never had the pleasure of meeting his brave son Cristian, I felt an immediate attachment to him as I viewed multiple videos of him playing with his Thomas Trains and the wonderful brave stories of this young boy. We all have a purpose in life and I do believe Cristian’s short time in this life and his father’s relentless pursuit to find a cure for Pontine Glioma will one day come to fruition.”
Committee Member Spotlight:
Aldo Marin has been a board member at the Cristian Rivera Foundation for over 8 years and was the 2019 recipient of the Service and Dedication Award. Professionally, he works in the music industry with his successful record label, Cutting Records, based out of New York City. Cutting Records has several top-charting pop songs under their belt including “Wiggle It” by 2 In A Room and “Temptation” by Corina. The label was also home to the Latin chart blockbuster group “Fulanito”. While working and collaborating with other noteworthy artists such as the Vargas Brothers and Daddy Yankee, Cutting Records has been nominated for several Grammy awards. Aldo was also a renowned DJ and even played on the radio station WKTU. His accomplishments as a music producer and editor led to Aldo serving on the Grammy committee for the Recording Academy (NARAS) to lend his expertise on the Dance and Latin genres. He continues to work as the head of Cutting Records to make music that makes you want to dance all day long. Aldo and our Founder John “Gungie” Rivera have been friends for over 3 decades, but it was only after reconnecting that Aldo learned about Cristian Rivera’s passing and decided to join the board. Aldo expressed that after learning about John’s experience with Cristian’s illness and gaining a better understanding of DIPG, he wanted to get involved. There are many qualities that make a good board member for CRF, but Aldo shared he feels it is important to “feel the pain of the children and what their families are going through”. Aldo felt that pain when he heard Cristian’s story and he had a strong desire to help. He feels that the most important thing the foundation can do is support families through their hard times and fundraise money for the clinical trials. One of Aldo’s goals as a board member is to achieve as much fundraising as possible each year. He knows that fundraising is vital to support the clinical trials for DIPG treatments, especially Dr. Mark Souweidane’s trial with Convection Enhanced Delivery (CED). Money for these trials is what will help us find the cure! Some of his favorite memories as a board member have been at fundraising events including the annual celebrity galas and the 5k walks. He stated that these events “bring a lot of good people together to help the cause”. Aldo also hopes to find grants that could help fund the trials and the Cristian Rivera Foundation. He is always looking for ways to help this foundation and is willing to step up and help with whatever is needed at any time. When asked what success looks like to him, Aldo said, “Success is, to me, being healthy, having your family all around you and being able to sustain yourself in this society. With much love and happiness for all.” This is his dream for all DIPG children and their families. After meeting Lisha Ayala, a DIPG survivor who participated in Dr. Souweidane’s trial, Aldo felt grateful and happy for her family. “Like a miracle, thank God, that she has survived this terrible disease that most children are not fortunate enough to live through”. He was ecstatic that the trial worked for her and can work for other kids in the future. Aldo is honored to be a part of CRF and wants to do the best possible job to help these children and their families. He said, “Each and every day we are trying to do something”. We are so grateful to Aldo and his dedication to the Cristian Rivera Foundation. We cannot express our gratitude and appreciation enough for all of our board members that make our mission possible!
“I got the pleasure of meeting Cristian when I was working with Gungie and from the first few seconds of hanging out with him, I knew he was in a league of his own. Cristian was so advanced I called him a Little Einstein. He knew what he wanted and was determined to get it. This is a great quality that even some adults fail to acquire in a lifetime. Cristian’s smile would light up any room; in fact, he made such an impact in my life that I told my wife Joanne if we ever had a boy we would name him Cristian. Even though Cristian is not physically with us, his spirit continues to make us smile and inspires us to accomplish great things. I had the opportunity to design and develop the original Cristian Rivera site and helped develop the foundation site. I am very pleased to become an integral part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation and look forward to putting forth my part in finding a cure for Pontine Glioma. Full Steam Ahead!”
Committee Member Spotlight:
Carlos Colon has been a valuable and dedicated board member of the Cristian Rivera Foundation for many years. He was the recipient of the Service and Dedication award at the 7th Annual CRF Celebrity Gala in 2015 and is now a husband and father to three kids. They are 2, 5, and 9 years old. Carlos is also a software engineer manager and enjoys working with his company to empower others to achieve their full potential. Carlos has lots of hobbies and passions as an individual. He enjoys cooking photography and most recently, woodworking. Carlos was also a DJ for many years and still enjoys mixing music for fun. He is a busy man, but has many passions and is focused on his health, family, and being a strong presence within the Cristian Rivera Foundation. Carlos met our founder, John, when he was working as the Creative Director at John’s old marketing company, Victory 2. At that job, Carlos met and formed a tight bond with Cristian. He remembers his most fond memories of Cristian were when he would come into the office, sit on Carlos’s lap, and play games on the computer. Carlos reminisced that Cristian had his own phone, business cards, and knew exactly what he wanted. He said that this strong-willed little boy “took up all the energy in the room”. Carlos gave Cristian the nickname “Little Einstein” because he felt it captured his personality. After leaving the company for his current job, Carlos still stayed connected with John. He saw Cristian change and his energy fall. When John asked him to be a Board Member for the Cristian Rivera Foundation, he felt honored. “I didn’t know how I could contribute to the cause since I lacked a huge network of associates and didn’t have the financial means to make a significant dent, but I knew with John as the driving force we would be successful. Initially, I leveraged my professional skills to help the foundation with technical problems, but over time I have been blessed to increase my personal contributions, grew my professional network, and exceeded my annual contribution goals by selling raffle tickets, 5k sponsorships, books, fundraising, getting donations from corporate, matching funds, and spreading the word about DIPG and our mission,” said Carlos. Carlos knew that the mission of the Cristian Rivera Foundation was going to be an uphill battle. “Our mission was to cure an incurable disease,” he said. Motivated by the connection he saw between John and Cristian, Carlos knew that he would do everything that he could to help. He expressed that board members need to be tenacious, relentless, compassionate, and supportive in order to do this job effectively. There is a need to be dedicated to the cause, even when it may feel that there is no hope. Carlos knows that there is always some good news, even if it is small. To Carlos, success would be, “The day that I stand next to John and they announce that they have found a cure”. Some of Carlos’s best memories have been at fundraising events. He expressed that the galas are always great to see the support from everyone who has joined the cause. The galas show the growth of the organization from the early days. CRF has gained amazing support and there are many dedicated people who are making a difference as a part of this group. Carlo’s most memorable experience was running in CRF’s Full Steam Ahead 5K. He ran with all 3 of his kids in a stroller! That is some extreme dedication. Carlos also has big plans for the foundation. He believes that there is strength in numbers. “The more good quality members who are dedicated, truly care about the cause, and join the CRF team, the closer we are to finding a cure,” said Carlos. Growing the network of supporters will help to spread awareness and inspire others to contribute both their skills and funds. We can say without a doubt that Carlos embodies all of the qualities that make a quality board member. He cares deeply about finding a cure for DIPG and is inspired by John’s dedication and strength. Carlos expressed that when he had his first child, he realized what John had been through. “When I first got involved with the foundation, I didn’t have kids, but knew first hand the love and bond John felt for Cristian. But that changed the minute I held our first baby girl in 2011. Fast forward to 2015 and we were once again blessed with our first boy. I told John I wanted to name him Cristian, in honor of the Little Einstein who continues to inspire us all to save the lives of hundreds of children. In 2018, we were once again blessed with another boy whom we named him Alexandro, a slight Latin variation of Cristian’s middle name Alexander. Just like John and other loving parents, we live for our children and would do anything in our power to protect them and make sure they have a chance to live out their dreams,” said Carlos. He wants to work towards a day soon that no other family has to feel that pain. We are incredibly proud of Carlos and his work to make a difference in the lives of so many people. Thank you Carlos for all of your dedication and the work that you continue to do!
Carlos Yepez has been in banking for over 23 years and is currently the VP Digital Banking Customer Success Manager with Investors Bank and Committee Member of Investors Bank Diversity Equity & Inclusion Council.
His passion for helping customers through problem resolution, consultative solutions, and overall sincere service has allowed him to win the trust of his clients and community alike.
He is a father of two wonderful children Angelica and Noah and Husband to an amazing wife Brenda. Carlos is a Native New Yorker and currently resides in New Jersey. Being born in “El Barrio ” he loved listening to all kinds of Latin Music especially Salsa. Carlos is the Lead Singer for Nelson Torres’ Grupo Decision, a Bronx-based Salsa Band, and loves teaching his kids all about their culture through Latin Music.
“Being asked to join the Cristian Rivera Foundation is a true honor. I never had the privilege of personally meeting Cristian Rivera but through his foundation, I feel as if I already knew him. Through his pictures, you can see the innocence and kind heart this young man had. Being a father myself I can’t fathom the thought of losing a child. I have had the pleasure of meeting John “Gungie” Rivera, Cristian’s father who has given me the opportunity to support the foundation as a committee member. The passion and drive that this foundation delivers is contagious. The goals of finding a cure for DIPG, creating awareness, and delivering support to those affected are impactful.”
“I am excited to become a part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation Family.”
Fernando Ferrer was Borough President of The Bronx from 1987 to 2001, and was a candidate for Mayor of New York in 2001 and the Democratic Party nominee for Mayor in 2005. During his 14-year tenure as Bronx borough president, Ferrer created housing for about 66,000 families. The borough saw a significant drop in crime, particularly in the South Bronx neighborhood, and a steady rise in business and real estate investment. He is currently Co-Chairman of Mercury, a high-stakes public strategy firm, located in New York City. Ferrer is also a director of Sterling National Bank and Sterling Bancorp, as well as the Regional Plan Association.
“When I see a picture of Cristian, I see his father, John “Gungie” Rivera. One can only imagine the passionate and complete person he would have become, had he survived. I am happy and honored to be part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation because I, too, want to be part of finding a cure for Pontine Glioma. As a parent myself, it is impossible for me to imagine the loss of a son or daughter. A cure for Pontine Glioma would mean that fewer mothers and fathers will have to know that awful loss. Being part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation gives me the opportunity to make a difference for children and their parents, too.”
“Through my friend Andy Epstein, who is the Chairman of the Board, I sponsored and attended both the 10th and 11th Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Celebrity Galas. After these events, I found myself running home to hug my boys. I’ve always been a person who likes to give back and I felt deeply compelled to join the board of the Cristian Rivera Foundation. As a father, I can’t imagine what these children and families go through and I feel it’s my obligation to do my part to eradicate this disease. I am happy and proud to be part of such a great organization and look forward to serving under the leadership of Andy Epstein, Carlos Yepez, and John “Gungie” Rivera. Through our combined efforts, I hope that one day DIPG will be a thing of the past.”
Committee Member Spotlight:
Francesco Quattrone joined our board in January 2020 and has been such a great addition to our board. Francesco grew up in a close-knit Italian family in New Jersey where he currently lives with his lovely wife and two kids. He owns SuperMarket Italy which is an online marketplace that specializes in selling a variety of high-quality food products. The business opened up in 2009 and has grown to about 100 employees. As an expert on great food, Francesco’s favorite Italian food is spaghetti and clams. In his free time he likes to make memories with his family and exercise. Francesco met our founder John through Andy Epstein, the Chairman of our board. Andy owns B&A Food Brokers, a company founded in 1985 that focuses on food service and retail trades. Francesco has been buying and selling Andy’s products for a long time and moved into Andy’s building in Hoboken in 2017. As their friendship and business partnership grew, Andy invited Francesco to CRF’s Annual Celebrity Gala. At that time, Francesco had recently had a son and John’s story really resonated with him as a new father. Francesco became passionate about DIPG and became a Bronze sponsor for the foundation’s gala. Francesco later joined our board in January of 2020. Unfortunately, he has not been able to experience many events as a board member, due to the ongoing pandemic. However, he is excited to become more involved in future fundraising initiatives. His favorite memory so far of CRF was our 11th Annual Celebrity Gala in 2019. When asked what values all board members should possess, Francesco answered, “I believe honesty and compassion are two of the most important characteristics”. He has high hopes for the future of DIPG and our organization as he wants to find a cure so no more people have to suffer from this horrible illness. Francesco wants CRF to eventually grow to be an international organization so that we can help more children around the world. Francesco loves CRF’s mission and can not wait to become more involved in future events. He believes that our work is critical and was amazed when he met DIPG survivor Lisha Ayala at our last gala. He wants to see more people survive this disease like Lisha and is excited to see what the future has in store for CRF.
“I’ve known John Rivera for as long as I’ve been in the security business. We’ve worked together on many occasions and always had a mutual respect for one another. I attended The Cristian Rivera Foundation’s Celebrity Fundraising Gala in 2015 & 2016 and saw firsthand, the dedication and amazing work the foundation does. I was amazed by the amount of support and love I felt in the room on both occasions. As a father of two, I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child to DIPG. I feel so compelled to utilize my influence to make a difference.”
Committee Member Spotlight:
As I virtually sat down to chat with long-time board member Jarrad Seuferling, there was something refreshing about him that I couldn’t immediately pin down. In our times filled with Zoom fatigue and a need to now exchange weekday small talk across a screen, with Jarrad it seemed that none of that applied. He struck me as someone you could relax and be real with. As I listened to Jarrad speak about his life, his career, and his involvement as a board member, I realized that his best qualities are his ability to be direct and honest with you, yet still come across with warmth. It is clear Jarrad has a big heart and good intentions. Jarrad is the type of person that I respect most – one who genuinely cares, without the extra fluff, who will have the actions to show for it. This personality was revealed to me more and more as he discussed his involvement with the Cristian Rivera Foundation. Jarrad has been the owner of one of the largest security companies in the NYC area and a powerhouse in the venue and entertainment industries for the past 25 years. As a prominent club and restaurant owner, Jarrad had known of our founder John “Gungie” Rivera for many years, but did not truly connect with him until Jarrad’s security company was asked to work the Cristian Rivera Foundation’s 7th Annual Celebrity Gala. After witnessing the foundation’s work and mission first-hand, Jarrad immediately felt compelled to get involved. Jarrad became truly invested in the foundation’s cause and after spending a period of time contributing to various CRF fundraisers, he was asked to become a board member. As a master at nurturing and maintaining connections with people, the responsibilities that came along with being a CRF board member came quite naturally to him. “I’m passionate about putting people together and helping their businesses or organizations grow. I have been running my business for a very long time and so at this time it’s running on autopilot. I really like uniting the right people together and helping build their goals,” said Jarrad. Building connections for the Cristian Rivera Foundation has proven to be one of his greatest strengths. “If I invite 20 people to the gala, 10 people are in it for the food, 5 people are in it for the auctions, but then about 5 people come back the next year without me asking them, or text me every now and again asking about the foundation. Those are the people who are in it for the long term. I’m a realist. There will always be some people who are in it to have a great time, but then there are also people who truly care about the cause,” said Jarrad. At the end of the day, these are the people we hope to form bonds with in order to propel our mission forward. Jarrad shares a similar sentiment when it comes to board members. “I am involved with a few other organizations and in my opinion, what makes a good board member is someone who is genuinely engaged in the foundation’s cause. People get in it for the wrong reasons, like networking or socializing. If you ask me, the number one thing is, you should have interest in the foundation without all the bells and whistles,” he said. This trait is something our foundation truly valued in Jarrad as we honored him with the 2018 Cristian Rivera Foundation Service and Dedication Award during our 10th Annual Celebrity Gala. It was his genuine desire and ability to fulfill and surpass his duties as a board member that warranted this special honor. In comparison to other organizations, Jarrad expressed that he enjoys the camaraderie of the people who are involved with the Cristian Rivera Foundation. “Everyone has a passion and is acquainted with one another, it’s not just a bunch of people networking and you’re not in a room full of people you don’t know. John has a real passion for this mission that you just don’t see anywhere else. He also understands that there’s a “gas pedal” which we respect in terms of when it’s the right time to reach out to certain donors. With CRF, you know exactly who you are helping and who you are working with to reach that goal. That’s not always something that you get with a non-profit,” said Jarrad. Feeling connected with the ones you are helping can be an important motivator for some donors and board members, but for Jarrad, he prefers to keep some distance. After meeting DIPG survivor Lisha Ayala on numerous occasions and seeing many families who have been affected by DIPG, Jarrad has found it’s possible to get too emotionally invested. “Lisha is super positive and this brings people hope. I love hearing from families but I’ve had family members who have been sick before, so I know how it is. For me, I know my place and the best thing to do is act,” said Jarrad. One goal Jarrad is taking action on over his next 5 years as a board member is to bring on 5 strong board members for the long run. At the end of the day, board members compose a significant amount of support and funding towards our goal of finding a cure for DIPG. He believes that once CRF’s fundraising events are able to kick off again we can successfully bring more supporters into the mix. In terms of how he’d like to see the foundation grow, as a long-time board member, Jarrad has been able to witness firsthand the organization’s growth during the gala each year. “More and more people are coming to these events and I definitely feel we’re on the right path to making it big and letting the world know about this deadly disease,” said Jarrad. Jarrad was born and raised in Brooklyn and is now living in Queens with his wife and two kids. His company continues to evolve and adjust to the terms of how the pandemic has been reshaping our world. Each day he’s holding onto his seat seeing how his industry will continue to change in the months ahead. Like many, Jarrad has experienced great losses professionally due to the pandemic, yet I sense a quality of acceptance and peace with how things have come to be for him. Jarrad said, “My industry was decimated. It’s kind of crazy. We’re blessed that we were big enough to survive this. My business was lucky to survive where many didn’t. If you asked me 15 years ago what success means to me, I would have said I chased money. Now I chase living. You could have a failing business but if you’re happy doing it and are passionate about it -you’re successful. Success is being surrounded by the right people.” We are grateful to have Jarrad around as a board member taking concrete actions for the sake of DIPG children and families and we believe that one day we will reach the success of finding a cure.
Kenan Thompson was born on May 10th, 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia. His first foray into acting came at a young age when he joined the TBS program “Movies for Kids” as one of several child movie critics. It was during this show that he reviewed the movie “Mighty Ducks” and got to meet some of the stars of that movie. He was pursued by their producers in an attempt to include him in “Mighty Ducks 2”, which he later won a role in.
From 1994-2000 Kenan was an integral part of Nickelodeon’s two highest rated shows. In 1994 he was cast in the highly popular kid’s show, “All That” on Nickelodeon, which he followed up with another highly successful show on the same network titled “Kenan and Kel.” He won a Kid’s Choice Award in 1998-’99 for his continued success on both shows.
While starring on Nickelodeon, Kenan continued to land parts in the movie industry. First, he was cast in “Heavyweights” in 1995, followed by “Mighty Ducks 3” in 1996, “GoodBurger” in 1997, “Rocky and Bullwinkle” in 2000, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” 2003, “Barbershop 2” in 2004, the lead role in “Fat Albert” in 2004 and “Snakes on a Plane” in 2006.
Kenan currently stars in the NBC show “Kenan”. He is also a member of the “Saturday Night Live”, of which he’s been a member since 2003. He is the first member to join the cast that wasn’t born yet when the show first aired and is the longest serving cast member in the show’s history. Kenan also had guest appearances on such TV shows as “Felicity”, “The Steve Harvey Show” and “Sister, Sister”.
“Being part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation means a lot to me. Working to save children’s lives is a very important and inspiring thing. I’ve known John for seven years and I had the pleasure of meeting Cristian a couple of times. I remember what a happy child he was and how loving the relationship was between John and Cristian. It was like they were friends and they would feed off of each other. When John came to me and told me what had happened to Cristian and what he was doing to fight this disease, my first thought was “how can I help?” No child should have to suffer like that. I have young children in my family—nieces, nephews and cousins—so I can imagine what it would be like to lose them, although no one can truly understand that level of heartbreak unless they’ve gone through it firsthand. I’m very excited to be involved in this foundation in any way I can.”
Manhattan native Luis Guzman has carved out a long and successful career as a character actor on both film and television. After years of performing independent films and street theater while supporting himself as a youth counselor at the Henry Street Settlement House, the City College graduate got his big break in the early 1980s with a role on Miami Vice. Guzman’s profile grew in the 1980s and 1990s with roles in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Mr. Wonderful, Carlito’s Way, Magnolia, Out of Sight, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Traffic, Anger Management, School for Scoundrels and countless other films. He appeared on HBO’s recent hit show How to Make it in America and is remembered for roles on Oz, Law and Order, NYPD Blue and Walker, Texas Ranger.
“Although I never met Cristian in person, I can say that I’ve met Cristian through the spirit of my friend, and his father, John “Gungie” Rivera. I am so honored to be part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation because I want to be part of finding a cure for Pontine Glioma. As a father of five, and having lost a child myself, I know what a terrible void it creates in someone’s life when their son or daughter passes away. A cure for Pontine Glioma would mean fewer families will have to know that void. Being part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation will give me the opportunity to make a difference.”
Meiling Macias Toro has over 25 years of experience in advertising and broadcast production. Meiling has produced advertising for U.S. Hispanic consumers at agencies such as Hispania of J.Walter Thompson, Castor advertising, Siboney, and Conill. She also worked at UniWorld Group, where she produced for the African American and Hispanic Markets. Before The Vidal Partnership she was also Director of Broadcast Production at Rapp Collins Worldwide, a direct response general market agency. She has worked with Fortune 500 clients such as AT&T, Budweiser, Burger King, Colgate, Ford, McDonald’s, Nissan Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble to name a few. She has covered location shoots around the United States, Europe, and North and South America.
Meilng’s work has won many awards from a Silver Telly, a number of Se Habla Español and FIAP awards for excellence in communication to consumers. She has been awarded La Tribuna’s Distinguished Women Award and a Colgate-Palmolive Award, and was named one of El Diario La Prensa’s Distinguished Women of 1998. She has served on the boards of the Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly and New York Organ Donor. Meiling is a founding member of 100 Hispanic Women of Westchester, where she contributes time to mentoring and fundraising for scholarships for young Latinas entering college. She is a proud mother of Nicole, and is married to (another Cristian Rivera Foundation Committee Member) Rafael Toro.
“It’s an honor to be of service to the Cristian Rivera Foundation. Together we will increase awareness so we can further the research needed to eradicate this dreaded disease.”
Paul Pristavec, a Staten Island native, is a Wealth Management Advisor at Merrill Lynch. He joined Merrill Lynch in 1992 and has been advising high net worth individuals and wealthy families since 1996. He is a parishioner of Our Lady Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church and is involved in charitable work for the Archdiocese of New York. Paul and his wife Dana reside in the Tottenville section of Staten Island with their four children.
“It is an honor to be associated with the Cristian Rivera Foundation. I have been a close friend of Christian’s father, John “Gungie” Rivera for many years and became aware of Pontine Glioma when Cristian was taken from us. Being the father of four children, I understand the importance of finding a cure and bringing awareness to this terrible disease.”
Rafael Toro began his career in the field of public relations in 1979 as a special assistant to Mayor Kevin White in Boston where he handled a variety of city campaigns, cultural programs and community activities as well as serving as the liaison to the Hispanic community.
In 1985, Rafael joined Goya Foods, Inc. as Director of Public Relations where he first set out to extend Goya’s community outreach to the Dominican, Mexican, South and Central American communities. As the Hispanic market grew in the United States, so did Goya Foods’ facilities, product lines and the company’s marketing and public relations departments. In turn, Rafael’s responsibilities expanded and led him to play a role in Goya’s crossover of the Hispanic market into mainstream America.
Rafael currently oversees Goya’s public relations department including public affairs, media relations, community activities, corporate contributions and food donations as well as event sponsorships, production and cultural programs. In celebration of Goya’s 75th anniversary in 2011, Rafael coordinated the launch of a yearlong media and event campaign to honor Goya’s history and success that included the initiation of Goya Gives, a national campaign to fight against hunger and to encourage others to help those in need. Through Goya Gives, the company donated one million pounds of food to The United Way on the 75th day of the year. The campaign also included a nine city concert series with Latin artists Marc Anthony, Ana Gabriel and Marco Antonio Solis where Goya donated 75,000-pounds of food to local charities in the name of each artist. In addition, Rafael has cultivated a strong relationship with the White House and the Obama administration and helped to facilitate President Barack Obama’s recognition of Goya, the only company that has been honored by the President. He also facilitated Goya’s collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama to launch MyPlate/ MiPlato, a national health initiative to educate Americans on how to eat healthier.
Over the years, Rafael has extended Goya’s good-will by supporting organizations including The Hispanic Federation, L.U.L.A.C., The Hispania Leadership Institute, The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, City Harvest, and the Latino Commission on AIDS, as well as disaster relief efforts including the donation of 300,000 pounds of food and 25,000 hot meals to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Rafael also initiated the annual Goya Scholarship Fund and the Goya Employee Scholarship Fund to provide students with a four-year college scholarship of $20,000 in honor of Goya’s dedication and commitment to higher education.
Most recently, Rafael played an intricate role in the commissioning of a life size statue of Roberto Clemente. On June 27, 2013, Goya honored the lifetime achievements of Roberto Clemente and unveiled the statue at the Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx to celebrate Clemente’s 40th anniversary of his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The unveiling attracted over 300 members of the community, family and friends as well as press including The New York Times, The New York Daily News, El Diario, CNN Latino, Telemundo, ESPN, and Univision to name a few.
Rafael holds a Masters in Education from Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has been married for 18 years to Meiling Toro and has one daughter Nicole.
“I commend John “Gungie” Rivera for his efforts in spreading awareness and supporting the research for Pontine Glioma. Through the Cristian Rivera Foundation I am hopeful that one day we will find a cure to this terrible illness so that no parent should ever have to bury their child.”
“I can clearly remember the phone call from John to inform me about Cristian’s condition. As a father of two boys myself, I could only try to imagine what John, Cristian, and their family were going through – and it wasn’t easy even trying to imagine it. I did not know anything about Pontine Glioma at the time, but I did know that John was determined to help his son survive, and that Cristian was going to be a fighter.
Two years later, I was hit hard by the news that Cristian had left us. Again, I could only try to imagine what John and his family were going through – and it was even harder to try and imagine.
John continues to be determined to help Cristian and children who suffer from Pontine Glioma. I am honored to be a part of helping to achieve his goals and the goals of the Cristian Rivera Foundation.”
Committee Member Spotlight:
Steve Cox has been friends with our founder, John “Gungie” Rivera, since they were 11 years old and living in the Bronx. These childhood friends started DJing together when they were in high school. When John asked Steve to be a part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation, he did not hesitate to jump on board. Steve has been a board member since the founding of the Cristian Rivera Foundation. He has been an integral part of the growth and impact of CRF. When Steve is not helping with a CRF project, he is working for UPS in the electronic commerce department. If you have ever had a package delivered through UPS and tracked your shipping information, Steve was probably a part of making that happen! Steve has made a huge impact here at the Cristian Rivera Foundation utilizing his many skills. Steve discussed that he believes board members need to be charitable with their time. We can definitely attest to his commitment to the organization. Since becoming a board member, Steve has helped by inspiring others to be charitable and donate their time or money. He has also assisted with finding items that are able to be auctioned off for fundraisers. One of the major donations that Steve has worked for is Broadway tickets. The funds raised from auctioning off these items goes to supporting the missions of CRF including funding clinical trials, assisting families, and raising awareness about DIPG. Steve says that being a successful board member is about, “Finding the time to get involved as needed, where needed”. One of Steve’s fondest memories since being involved with the Cristian Rivera Foundation is the 1st Annual CRF Celebrity Gala. He loved to see how everything was pulled together and the energy of everyone coming together to help out was inspiring for Steve. He also has fond memories of the Annual Boat Rides and 5Ks. These events are wonderful experiences that bring people together to make a difference. We can’t wait until it is safe to hold these events again and we can all be together again. Steve has big aspirations for the future and can’t wait to see what the Cristian Rivera Foundation is able to accomplish. He stated that, “Ultimately success is to find a cure”. We are all working together every day with what we do with the end goal of finding a cure for DIPG. Steve also loves that our foundation works to support families with children who have DIPG and those families who have lost a child to the disease. Supporting families and raising awareness about DIPG are important steps on the way to finding a cure. He expressed that, “Just because we haven’t found a cure yet doesn’t mean that we haven’t been successful”. This is an important idea to consider. Although it can be hard to think that there is still not a known cure for DIPG, there has been progress made. There are children who have longer lives and a higher quality of life thanks to clinical trials. Steve says, “The fact that we have helped one child, that is a success where there was none before”. We have more work to do, but we are moving Full Steam Ahead and we have an amazing team that is going to help us get there!
“I am honored to lend my support to help the world learn more about this disease affecting children. I wish no other child dies from cancer again, and the only way to reach this dream is to have more people join the cause. Childhood cancer should be a global health priority. Children are our future, and we owe it to them to give them the best chance at life that we can. This highly aggressive cancer, DIPG, is stripping away the life of children below the age of 10. We need to bring awareness and find a cure. I’ve known Gungie for over 10 years and he has become a dear dear friend; I admire his tenacity and tireless efforts for this beautiful foundation, and it’s a privilege to join him in this cause.”
Committee Member Spotlight:
Vanessa is a first generation Dominican American, a Columbia University alumnus and a Real Estate Broker living in New York City. As a marathon runner, she rallies for our Annual Full Steam Ahead 5K each year, bringing her entire family and friends to join her in the 5K to help support CRF. Vanessa Rodriguez, a devoted supporter of our cause, has been on the Cristian Rivera Foundation Board since 2017. She has known our founder John “Gungie” Rivera for many years and even had the pleasure of meeting his son Cristian a year before his passing. Passionate about helping children and families who are affected by DIPG, Vanessa continues to support the Foundation through driving awareness and raising funds. One of her favorite parts about the organization is the personal connection that we have with families affected by DIPG. She loves meeting the families and understanding how much of an impact DIPG has on them and being able to witness the human component behind the foundation. This fuels her enthusiasm and passion to help. Vanessa hopes that one day there will be a cure and we won’t have to see any other family suffer from DIPG.
Vanessa has a love for dogs, especially for her 16-year-old miniature pinscher. After her dog experienced severe health issues and underwent surgery for a pacemaker, she has set out to spread the word on dog health and nutrition promoting natural foods for pets. Understanding the natural evolution of our relationship with animals and that pet owners consider pets to be members of their family, she is currently working on a project for pet health and care. Some of her other hobbies and interests include dancing, jazz, and old films. While Vanessa loves all the wonderful CRF events that are hosted in New York, she would love to see our foundation grow and have events in other cities and states. Thank you Vanessa for your long-standing support and passion for our mission. Full Steam Ahead!
Alberto Torres, Esq. is a graduate of New York Law School (J.D. 1986) and the City College of New York (B.A. 1983). Mr. Torres’ practice of law entails twenty-five years of legal experience in the areas of Cooperative and Condominium general counsel, Commercial and Real Estate Transactions and Litigation, Civil and Housing Court Litigation, incorporating and advising small business and not-for-profit corporations, trusts and estates and criminal law.
Throughout the past twelve years, Mr. Torres has had extensive experience in counseling and advising cooperative and condominium developments on conversion plans and governance of their cooperative developments. Mr. Torres was an instructor with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and represents many cooperative developments under the Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) statutes, and represents developments under the Tenant Interim Lease Program (TIL).
Mr. Torres served as a Commissioner on the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission from 1996 to 2004 and was the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Bronx Council for Economic Development and a member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and the American Legion Unionport Post 1065.
Alberto Torres, Esq. offices are located at 629 Melrose Avenue, Bronx, New York 10455, Tel No. (718) 620-0106 and Electronic mail: email@example.com.
“In the year 2018, I came across the name “John Gungie Rivera” on social media. I had lost contact with John for over 15 years. Unknown to me, John had a tragic loss to his family when his son, Cristian, tragically lost his life to a horrible disease that afflicts young children and terminates their lives within one year of diagnosis..
That same year I attended the Cristian Rivera Foundation Annual Gala and was amazed by John’s dedication and determination to find a cure for this horrible disease that stole Cristian’s life..
At that gala, I decided that I would support of all of John’s efforts to find a cure for this horrible disease that kills a young child before the child has an opportunity to experience life, and likewise destroy’s the family.
I am proud to be a part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation’s journey to obliterate DIPG.”
Alex Garcia is a Nuevo Latino chef who helped popularize a version of Cuban food at several New York City restaurants and on the Food Network. After spending a few years working as a waiter, Alex attended Northeastern University in Massachusetts where he earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management. He later attended the Culinary Institute of America, and Florida International University. Alex worked alongside famed Nuevo Cuban chef Douglas Rodriguez for four years at Yuca restaurant in Miami. Garcia’s work in New York has included stints at Erizo Latino in Soho, Babalu, Patria, Calle Ocho and, most recently, Habana Room.
His first cookbook, In a Cuban Kitchen, was published in September 2004 in the United States and in England.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Cristian even before he was born. Through my friendship with his father, John “Gungie” Rivera, I’ve always had the chance to cook for John and Cristian’s mom at various restaurants, and I even cooked at Cristian’s baby shower at a restaurant I owned with Ralph Mercado called Babalu. It is through my cooking that I got the chance to interact with such a beautiful and strong little boy, whether it was before he was born or when John would take him to my restaurants. When Cristian got sick, I volunteered to make him special meals and I also cooked at the first Cristian Rivera Foundation Gala. I am proud to be part of the Cristian Rivera Foundation and to be one of its Committee Members. I know what John went through with Cristian’s illness and I feel a loss just from speaking with him. As a father myself, I can only imagine what it’s like to lose a child and I don’t want to have to keep picturing such a terrible thing. I feel that someone needs to educate and eventually find a cure for this horrible disease, Pontine Glioma. If everyone joined forces, we’d be able to make even more of an impact.”
“Two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting John “Gungie” Rivera when I interviewed for a position at the Cristian Rivera foundation. As a newly-licensed social worker, I had just graduated from Fordham University and was in the process of applying to multiple agencies. John sat down with me and told his story about losing Cristian to DIPG, which was very moving. I was originally drawn to the position advertised because I had such a great experience volunteering for a foundation that supported children diagnosed with cancer and blood disorders in the past. While I ended up accepting a different job offer, I knew that I would continue to volunteer for the Cristian Rivera Foundation whenever I was able to. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be more involved with the foundational, and I am determined to help fight this devastating illness and find a cure for DIPG.”
Committee Friend Spotlight:
Maggie Meehan is a Visiting Nurse Association hospice social worker for Ocean County, NJ and has been a long-time supporter and board member of the Cristian Rivera Foundation. Maggie’s journey started when her father passed away when she was 17 years old. The heart-wrenching, personal experience of losing someone that mattered the most and the devastation of her whole life changing drove her towards social work. “I wanted to be there to support people in a way that I didn’t necessarily have. That kind of drove me to be what I wish that I had at the time,” said Maggie. She had never imagined working in end-of-life care but the minute she got into it she realized she wouldn’t be able to do anything else. “This is where I’m supposed to be,” she said. Maggie went on to receive her master’s degree specializing in palliative care from Fordham University. Soon after graduating while looking for a job, she obtained an interview with Cristian Rivera Foundation founder, John Rivera, to potentially work for the foundation. During her interview Maggie felt a very strong connection to John and CRF, so although she did not end up accepting the job, she wanted to continue to volunteer and be an active part of CRF. Maggie has always been involved in pediatric oncology throughout her scholarly career, so the overall cause that CRF supports interested her immensely. Similarly to why she became interested in palliative care, one of Maggie’s favorite things about CRF is that we can give back and really make a difference in people’s lives when they need it the most. “Illness doesn’t discriminate,” Maggie said, “whether it’s a child or an adult, we are trying to help people at the worst times of their lives.” Some of her favorite memories from her time at CRF are the Annual Celebrity Galas. “I am always in tears and it is always so impactful and it really gets you fired up to continue to fight, continue to fundraise and support the main people we are trying to help out,” she said. Due to COVID the last CRF gala had to be canceled which was very upsetting for Maggie, not only because it is her favorite event but also because it is one of the foundation’s largest fundraising events. The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the world and has sent many nonprofits into a tailspin. Maggie discussed how the large events that used to be the core of a lot of nonprofits’ fundraisers had to either drastically adjust or cancel and there’s a huge lack of monetary support that there used to be access to. On top of that, many people have lost their jobs and are unable to donate like they used to, therefore the donor pool is diminished. “I know even for myself,” Maggie said, “I did have family members and friends that lost their job that would always donate a little bit, but I feel bad asking them when I know that they are struggling if they can continue to support.” In Maggie’s words, success for CRF would clearly be finding a cure, but on top of that, success would also mean supporting the kids and families as much as we can so that we never have to turn down a child for treatment because they can’t afford it or because we can’t support them. For Maggie as a board member, she just wants to be the best she can and support as many people as possible. In light of the pandemic, Maggie hosted CRF’s first ever Cardio to Zen-Virtual Workout Fundraiser in May of 2020. “I want to continue to put on events, be creative, innovative, especially during COVID times,” Maggie explained. In her personal life, success for Maggie means keeping motivated and following her passions. As she works with terminally ill people, she wants to make sure that she can support them emotionally, keep from getting burned out, and be there for the people that need her the most. Outside of CRF, some of Maggie’s favorite hobbies include going to the beach, spending time with family and friends, and traveling. Maggie also loves spending time with her horse who she trained herself and has had for 21 years at this point! Maggie looks forward to watching CRF grow as an organization and can’t wait till we find a cure and see more survivors of DIPG. Thank you Maggie for all of your support for CRF and our mission over the years.
Mark A Rosner
Born- New York City
Reside- Jericho, NY
Graduated- York College, CUNY
Children- Rachel, Carly and Adam
Occupation- Manager, Compucolor Associates, Inc.
“What Cristian Rivera meant to me – Cristian Rivera showed me what is meant by the phrase “fighter”. Throughout his entire ordeal he always had a smile whenever I saw him. When Cristian was about 2 years old I remember him being bright eyed and full of energy captivating everyone in John’s office. A few short years later after I learned that he was diagnosed with Pontine Glioma I again saw him in John’s office. This time he was huddled on one of John’s chairs. He sat up, looked up at me with his big dark eyes smiled, said hi and slapped me five. I don’t remember how far advanced the tumor was, but it was already draining the vim and vigor out of Cristian. I remember coming home that night and telling my wife, Leslie that “this isn’t fair.
I hope that through the work of this committee we can first bring an awareness of this terrible disease that most people have never heard of. Through early awareness there may be children who can be diagnosed and receive treatment that may save their life. Through research new or alternative treatments may be found so the suffering from this horrible disease can end.”
Michael is a 20+ year veteran of Wall Street Investment Banks as well as Owner and sole Proprietor of ANS Entertainment LLC, a boutique DJ and event services company started by he and his wife Claudia in 2005. Born and raised in the South Bronx, he is a graduate of Cardinal Hayes High School (’91) as well as the College of the Holy Cross (’96). He and Claudia reside in Ridgefield, NJ with their 3 children (Alexandra, Sofia, and Aedan). An avid sports fan and former HS and collegiate athlete, in 2010 qualified to run his first NYC marathon. Being raised with a sense of community responsibility and a passion for his Catholic Education, used this as an opportunity to raise $5,000 to create an emergency tuition fund for the at-risk families at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Harlem. After the recent loss of a family member (Santiago Buther) was inspired once again to use his network of friends and family to help fundraise and make DIPG a thing of the past.
“Being a Puerto Rican with a love for baseball, your Idol is automatically Roberto Clemente. His skill on the field was incredible but his works off of the field were well beyond that. To the point that it cost him his life. I have always been inspired by his quote: “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” In 2010 after reading his autobiography a few years earlier, this quote inspired me to raise money for these students at Our Lady of Lourdes, because I was once that kid and lived in an at-risk family. Sadly, this January when Santiago gained his wings, this sense of communal responsibility was awoken within me again. I am firmly committed to help prevent any other child and their family from having to suffer this type of loss. To not combat this disease would be a waste of my time on this earth”
Mr. Rodriguez is a graduate of the City University of New York, Lehman College, with a B.A. in Political Science and English Literature. Mr. Rodriguez is a former Police Officer and Deputized United States Drug Enforcement Agent. Mr. Rodriguez obtained a J.D. from New York Law School and is admitted to practice in NY. While in law school, Mr. Rodriguez worked with the Court Advocate Project, where he assisted victims of domestic violence in court proceedings; the Criminal Justice Seminar, in conjunction with a local District Attorney’s Office; and was awarded the highest scoring advocate at the NYLS Intramural Trial Competition.
Prior to law school, Mr. Rodriguez worked in law enforcement and conducted investigations on the local, state and federal level that included homicide, money laundering and international narcotics cases. After law school, he worked as a Prosecuting Attorney for the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission and an Immigration Attorney representing families and children facing deportation before the United States Immigration Tribunal.
Mr. Rodriguez has always devoted much of his time to assisting those who are less fortunate. Throughout his career, working cases on behalf of immigrants, developmentally delayed children, child abuse and domestic violence victims, has shaped his course of service to others. He also currently volunteers with the Cristian Rivera Foundation, working to find a cure for DIPG, a rare fatal brain tumor in young children.
Mr. Rodriguez is fluent in Spanish, was born and raised in the Bronx and now resides in Westchester county.
Deputy inspector Edward Caban is a native of the Bronx with 18 years in the New York Police Department. He was appointed to the New York Police Department in April of 1991 and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in April of 1994. As a sergeant, he served in the 28th, 33rd and 34th precincts. He was promoted to lieutenant in October of 1999, where he served in the 41st and 48th precincts, and promoted to the rank of captain in December of 2006, where he served as the executive officer of the 23rd precinct. Caban was named to his current position—deputy inspector—in March of 2008 and is currently the commanding officer of the 25th precinct. Edward Caban holds a Bachelor’s Degree from St. John’s University. He is married to his wife Leidy and is a proud father of 2 children, Eddie Jr., 4 years old, and Ava Marie, 3 years old.
“Cristian meant a lot to everybody. Even through his illness, he was a very strong child who had strength and maturity well beyond his years. He was still able to bring a smile to everyone’s face—everyone who knew him and everyone who had contact with him. It’s an honor of mine to be affiliated with the Cristian Rivera Foundation.”
Vito Bruno is founder and CEO of AM PM Entertainment Concepts. He got his start at iconic Brooklyn club 2001 Odyssey, where he became an integral part of the disco scene, organizing the first public show by The Village People as well as performances by Chic, Kool and the Gang, The Trammps, Gloria Gaynor and France Joli. Bruno has owned, managed and operated many of New York City’s most iconic nightclubs. He managed and built the careers of Noel and Crystal Waters, and he is credited with helping acts such as Lisa Lisa and Doug E. Fresh break into the mainstream. Bruno has produced many successful events over the years, including the Michael Jackson/ Pepsi Press extravaganza, KTU’s annual Beatstock concert, and parades for Puerto Rico Day, African-American Day, Cuban Day, Heritage of Pride and Halloween.
“It is an honor to be a committee member of the Cristian Rivera Foundation. I have known John “Gungie” Rivera for over two decades and consider him a friend. I have had the privilege of meeting Cristian and as a father myself, I cannot imagine losing my child. Being a committee member of the Cristian Rivera Foundation gives me a chance to make a difference and contributing to someday putting an end to D.I.P.G.”
Anthony George Douglas Mason is a retired American National Basketball Association player. He averaged 10.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in his 13-year NBA career. Mason, who played primarily the power forward position despite his relatively diminutive stature (he stood at 6′ 7″ (2.01 m)), compensated his lack of size by his impressive musculature, which made him one of the most feared defensive players in the league. In addition to his physical strength, he could rely on a very good court vision and was a precise and effective passer. He was also known for shaving logos and words into his hair.
Mason’s long and accomplished basketball career includes a five-year stint with the New York Knicks. He was made part of the All-Defensive Second Team, as well as the All-NBA Third Team during the 1996-1997 season. Additional The NBA’s sixth Man of the Year in 1995 also earned the chance to play in the 2001 All Star Game as part of the Miami Heat.
Mason has made prominent appearances off the court as well. In the TV series New York Undercover, Mason appeared in two different episodes, playing himself in one. He also plays a pickup player in the 1996 film Eddie, and himself in Woody Allen’s Celebrity.
“Being on the Cristian Rivera Foundation Committee means a lot to me. Even though I never got the chance to meet Cristian, I have known Gungie since 1994 and I see what a loving guy he is. So I can only imagine what his relationship with Cristian was like. I know what it’s like with my own kids and though you can never know what it’s like for someone to lose a child, I can only imagine since I know how I feel when my kids only get hurt. So I want people to get involved and start doing the research to cure this disease because we as parents should not have to bury our children.”
MIRIAM COLON VALLE (Producer): Has been the Artistic Director of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre for the last 40 years, producing over 100 plays. Her film credits include the starring role in ISABEL LA NEGRA opposite José Ferrer and Raúl Juliá; ONE EYED JACKS and THE APPALOOSA, both starring Marlon Brando; BACKROADS starring Sally Field, and SCARFACE starring Al Pacino.
She joined the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis interpreting the role of Bernarda in Federica García Lorca’s THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA and repeated the same role for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s presentation, directed by René Buch. In 1993 she was awarded on Obie for Sustained Performance through the Years. In 1994 she starred in Eduardo Machado’s FLOATING ISLANDS at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, for which she won the 1994 Dramalogue Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre. Her last three film assignments are THE BLUE DINER, GOAL (starring Kuno Becker) and THE CRY (LA LLORONA).
“I feel honored to be one of the members of the CRISTIAN RIVERA FOUNDATON, because it gives me the opportunity to lend my energies to a cause dedicated to the research and study of Pontine Glioma, an inoperable brain tumor which develops mostly on children between the ages of 3 to 9.
For reasons I can not fully understand Cristian was affected with this disease and though he has separated himself physically from us, he is present in our thoughts, in our hearts, in our memories.
I joined because I want to contribute to the act of saving lives and helping to safeguard the education, the health and the welfare of the children of the world.
Cristian, although I never had the opportunity to meet you, I feel I know you because I have seen you reflected in the eyes of your father, my dear friend John “Gungie” Rivera. I’ve seen the transformation in his face, and in the tone of his voice, when he proudly shows us pictures of the two of you together in better days.
You left us the legacy of your innocence, your purity, and your unconditional love. You have inspired your father and his commitment and love has moved us all to be aware, to care, and to fight for the welfare of all the children.
Thank you Cristian.”