"Giving Back With Flare"
Written By Steve Goodman
What happens to a New York native, raised in Puerto Rico, who becomes a percussionist at the age of 12? What does one do with the rest of his life when he’s already had the honor of playing with Salsa singers and bands such as Cheo Feliciano, Santos Colon, Ismael Miranda, Daniel Santos, Roberto Anglero and Claudio Ferrori? Having had the opportunity to learn the custom and culture of the Hispanics as he traveled the U.S. mainland and the Caribbean, Frank Nieves chose the obvious path, which was to spend the next ten years of his life sharing his entrepreneurial skills, his love of life and appreciation of music, and his devoted friendship with the Latin and Hispanic community.
There are all the kinds of people who do not take their success for granted and are committed to giving back to the communities where they live and work. That giving back takes many forms, from setting up foundations, to doing countless hours of community service, to raising funds for great causes – and sometimes, if you are Frank Nieves, it also means throwing the biggest and best “block party” South Florida has ever seen! “I created the first Fiestas Patronales in 2001,” says Frank. “We are now celebrating our 10th anniversary.”
Currently, Frank is not only head of the Fiestas; he is President of the Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Broward County. He is very comfortable “wearing both hats.” In fact, he says one really grew out of the other. Having worked as a Telecommunications Engineer since 1980, Frank acquired vast experience in management and participated in business expos throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America and was able to open markets for Enhance Communications Group in charge of the international markets of Colombia, Venezuela, Salvador and Panama, among others. This gave him the need to know the Latin communities, their culture and consumers’ habits in these countries.
“Because of my background in music, and strong ties to my Puerto Rican culture, I realized that when people come here from South America, Puerto Rico, wherever, they leave behind not only their homes, but things that are most closely related to their culture – the music, the traditions and so on.” Frank joined many chambers after starting his own business and could not find what he was looking for.
“I decided to create a chamber for Hispanics that focuses on culture, rather than just business or community politics. So with my production background I started working with the Chamber to stage events. What I always brought to those events were dancers, music, and those aspects of Hispanic culture.”
And while Fiestas is a celebration of Hispanic heritage, its popularity and its growth from a four-day festival to the only 11-day Hispanic festival in the country proves that it has an appeal beyond the Hispanic community. Much like “everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s Day” – everyone has a little Latin in them come Fiestas.
“The rest of the community has always loved Hispanic food, music, dance, etc. They travel to many Latin American countries, and, of course, Puerto Rico, and other Hispanic destinations across the Caribbean. So giving them the opportunity that Fiestas does to experience that without leaving the country is very appealing.”
Throwing the country’s largest Hispanic festival is not the only way Frank gives back. “I like to aid as many people as I can. My wife and I are both actively involved in helping the developmentally disabled community. I have a granddaughter with Down’s Syndrome – so we have always been involved with that.” Frank’s spare time, if indeed he finds any in his busy world, involves helping his wife, Hilda, run a group home for kids with developmental disabilities and he is gearing up to chair the next American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
“You know,” says Frank, “we Latins are a little bit different. We like to get comfortable. We are very loyal in the sense of once we do business with a company, we never stop doing business with that company, and those relationships often are built just on a handshake.” Having attended many Chamber after-hours networking events during the week, Frank noticed that people were still tense from work and would walk around hurriedly – pass around business cards and say ‘Hi, this is me – this is you’ – but nobody really made any friends. “You never really got to know anybody, which to me is the basic way you do business with people. We have to trust people. We have to get to know them.” Fiestas is one chance to relax, loosen up your tie, have a good time – and still meet some good people you want to do business with.
Nobody knows what it is like to be the ultimate volunteer than Steve Nieves, older brother, mentor and confidante of Frank Nieves. When brother Jose went off to fight in the Vietnam War,Steve volunteered to serve just to ensure his brother returned to the States knowing that two sons were not allowed to serve simultaneously. His plan, although a truly selfless one, did not work and both brothers continued to serve. Steve, a member of the 4th Infantry, not only was a cook, serving many meals on the front line, but he was also an expert sharpshooter until an injury to his finger sent him home.
In 2008, Steve was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer having evolved from Agent Orange, and he would become one of the first veterans to receive cutting edge treatment. For morethanayearhisrarecancer, Mantle Cell Lymphoma, eluded proper diagnosis until it had reached Stage 4. Being one of only 15,000 known cases in the U.S., Steve, with the support of family, friends and everyone who helped him at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, is now in remission. Spending his
days assisting Frank with his philanthropic endeavors and enjoying his four children and seven grandchildren, his wife, Carmen, is proud to say that “My husband is the most generous man I’ve ever known.”
Steve is living proof as to why everyone needs to take responsibility for their own
health. Having gone through his own father’s death from cancer his mission is to spread awareness and education. “What I want people to know is don’t fear the testing. Check yourself regularly, do all the tests. The earlier a cancer is found the faster treatment can begin,” says Steve. “Be positive. Have faith and hope. Life is wonderful and you can learn how to live with it.”