May 22, 2019


The idea of organizing a benefit dinner sprang from pure desire to combine an evening of beautiful music and good food while raising awareness and money for AVSI-USA

Discovery and Simplicity was the title of an event organized by supporters of AVSI-USA to celebrate and raise awareness for various international projects. The elegant affair, which was held in a delightfully decorated hall at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music in California, brought together 60 people eager to share a beautiful evening together by listening to live music and enjoying a gourmet dinner. The idea for a benefit dinner-concert came from amateur chef Filippo Mambelli and classical musician Mary Kelly, whose enthusiasm inspired friends to join in the festivities. Guests were also treated to the screening of two short films which documented AVSI’s work in Iraq to assist refugee children as they return to school and in Mexico, where AVSI-USA’s long-partner Crecemos helps vulnerable kids stay in school by providing educational and nutritional programs. 

The gratuitous spirit of discovery and simplicity of the organizers was matched by the gratitude of the guests, generating proceeds of $1,250 which will be donated to Baby Jesus Kindergarten in Erbil, Iraq and Crecemos in Oaxaca, Mexico.


The idea of organizing a benefit dinner sprang from a pure desire to combine an evening of beautiful music and good food while raising awareness and money for AVSI-USA.

“My friend Filippo Mambelli and I had been hosting these evenings where he would prepare a beautiful meal for friends and I would get some of my musician friends over to read chamber music,” says musician Mary Kelly. “The evenings were full of joy, laughter, and beauty, and each evening, I would come away having discovered something about myself that I hadn’t perceived before.”

When Filippo suggested to his friend to organize a similar dinner and music evening, but have it benefit AVSI-USA, Mary was all in.

“I didn’t know what AVSI-USA was, but I was curious to learn while preparing for the evening. I was able to book a hall at the Conservatory where I work and the evening was born!” remembers the musician.

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From there, others expressed a desire to participate in the event and people started popping out of the woodwork to organize and help. The desire to help was immediate.

With the room filled with 60 people, the evening began with a warm welcome by Fillippo, who was also the chef of the evening. Then, we all learned more about AVSI-USA through a short video about the kindergarten supported in Iraq. The video gave us an overview of how the NGO is working towards rebuilding a community that had been destroyed by the war and how to bring back a sense of belonging to the people.

The room was decorated with love and care, featuring pictures and texts about AVSI-USA on each table. After we served the first course, the music began. Four friends gathered to play the Faure Piano Quartet No. 1. Mary introduced the piece and explained that instead of it being a regular performance, the audience and musicians would be discovering the music together. A dialogue and interaction between the musicians and the audience would be encouraged.

Photo from Mary Kelly2

After all the courses were served, “The Awakened Heart”, a short documentary about Crecemos, was shown. Crecemos is a long-term partner of AVSI-USA in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The documentary explained that the project currently serves 500 children and 400 mothers through comprehensive programs in nutrition, academic support, sports and personal development in the poorest neighborhoods.  Crecemos, translates to “growing together” and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018.  After the video, a delicious dessert of creme brulee was served while musicians performed the last movement of the Faure Quartet.  

As a result of the evening, volunteers were able to raise $1,250 to support AVSI-USA initiatives. But in relating to the experiences of that evening, it was clear that a ‘Crecemos’ of our own happened that night.  

“I invited my boss to the event, but I was wondering whether or not the reason of the dinner would come out clear to him and if he would appreciate such an initiative since we come from very different backgrounds and he did not know anything about AVSI-USA,” remembers Filippo. “At the end of the night, I found him in the hall vacuuming the floor. He told me that since the night was so beautiful and the cause so interesting, he decided to make an additional financial contribution. And since he wanted to help even more, he started to clean up the room! When our heart is moved by something true, it becomes evident and contagious for everyone”.

Mary and Filippo are already planning the next dinner:

"It was so simple to adhere to, to be more human, to come out of my 'taken for granted' daily routine, to do something good. Next will be polenta!" celebrates Mary.

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