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Six of the largest non-profit organizations in Colombia joined efforts at Karu & Y Restaurant in Miami on November 15 for BeLive 2007, a gala to raise awareness of the problems plaguing the South American country. NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya, his wife Connie, and the charity they founded, the Formula Smiles Foundation, hosted the gala.

“We were planning 300 people, it was maximum 350. Then it went up to 500 and now its up to 600,” Montoya said. “It’s been amazing and overwhelming with how much support we’ve had.”

The red carpet was rolled out for guests as they arrived for dinner, a silent auction, a fashion show by designer Silvia Tcherassi, and an unplugged concert from twelve-time Latin Grammy winner Juanes.

The silent auction offered up such items as a race helmet signed by Montoya, a guitar from Juanes, an autographed art palette from renowned artist Fernando Botero, a painting by Colombian artist Jorge Cavelier, a haute-couture outfit from Tcherassi, several vacation packages and a cooking experience with acclaimed Colombian chef Harry Sasson.

Montoya, who credits his wife for planning the gala, said they use their Formula Smiles Foundation to build playgrounds in Colombia to encourage sports participation in a country that does not have physical education programs. The foundation also hires instructors, provides equipment and athletic gear, and encourages children to attend school.

“I don’t want to take away anything from the problems we have in the States, but the problems in Colombia – the poor people in Colombia are 10 times poorer than the people here,” he said. “In a cynical way, the poor people here are middle class in Colombia. And when people are poor there, they have nothing. They don’t have houses, the kids hardly go to school. They just have nothing.”

Among the VIP guests was one of People Magazine’s Hottest Bachelors of 2006,
PGA golfer Camilo Villegas. Born in Medellin, Colombia, Villegas is a well-known supporter of Montoya’s Formula Smiles Foundation, and in 2006 Villegas launched his own foundation, Fundacion Escuela Circo Momo, which offers arts and education to the poor. He, along with others, were able to raise thousands of dollars to aid children and low-income communities in Colombia in the areas of health, education, nutrition and social development.

The six non-profits involved in BeLive 2007 included Give to Colombia, Colombianitos, FundaciĆ³n Mi Sangre, United for Colombia, the Genesis Foundation, and the Formula Smiles Foundation.

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