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Milagro Center New Director

New director hopes to expand offerings at Milagro Center

By Leon Fooksman

May 10, 2002

DELRAY BEACH -- As the Milagro Center celebrates its fourth year, the center known for cultural and arts programs and its multicolored exterior will hire its fourth executive director.

Lhisa Almashy, a multicultural teacher and administrator with the Palm Beach County School District, will start her new job on June 5. She is replacing Elena Leonardi, the director for the past two years who resigned on April 30 for health reasons, said Maria Santamarina, the interim director.

Almashy will take over the nonprofit center on Southeast Second Avenue as it tries to break away from the financial backing of its founder Thomas Worrell, a developer and philanthropist who made a fortune as a newspaper scion. At the same time, the center is trying to expand beyond its tradition of offering exhibits, classes, and an after-school program by opening for legal counseling, fair-housing workshops and employment training for immigrants and the poor.

"We've been on a plan to be self-sufficient within two years," Santamarina said.

The Milagro, which means miracle in Spanish, was an aging paint warehouse before Worrell purchased it and turned it into a community center intended to teach and promote the arts. His organization planned to provide most of the money for the center's programming until directors were able to make it stand on its own.

As Leonardi departed, the center faced an estimated $40,000 shortfall in its $250,000 budget. Organizers are hoping to erase the deficit before December through fund raising. If they can't, Worrell's foundation will have to chip in more money, said Santamarina, who declined to explain how much the foundation currently provides.

The center has faced budget crunches before, but it's always survived, she said.

"It's just the nature of nonprofit work," Santamarina said.

Leonardi could not be reached for comment this week. She was hired by the center's former executive director, Joseph Bernadel, who left in March 2000 to pursue the start of a Haitian museum and a charter school. Before Bernadel, Lisa Bright ran the center.

Bernadel said he didn't find it unusual that the center has had so many executive directors in its short life.

"I don't look at it as being odd," he said. "People come there and they evolve."

Almashy, 35, said her priorities will include broadening the center's fund raising and going after private and public grants. She hopes to expand programs and market the center beyond Delray Beach.

A graduate of the University of San Francisco, she has eight years of experience of teaching and administrating multicultural programs at the school district. She oversaw the creation of a curriculum for Hispanic studies and ran a program that paired students from 18 schools with directors of cultural organizations for several months of learning about other countries and cultures.

"I want to create programs that help foster a sense of understanding and tolerance for all cultures," said Almashy, whose family comes from Venezuela. "The Milagro Center already embraces this, and I'm hoping to champion this further."

Leon Fooksman can be reached at or 561-243-6647.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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