Alberto Mariaca, the hostess Jackie Weld Drake, Sissi Fleitas, George Corton (Photo: John Sanderson/The Annie Watt Agency)

On December 18, Jacqueline Weld Drake, described by The New York Times 25 years ago, and it still seems true, as being “like a hummingbird — high-strung, small-boned and colorful,” welcomed the children’s choir of the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education to her Park Avenue residence.

The Casita Maria choir (Photo: John Sanderson/The Annie Watt Agency)

The choir was excited to meet “Miss Jackie,” as she is called, who had presents waiting for them under her Christmas tree. Later they enjoyed dinner.

Weld Drake is the chairwoman of Casita, and her interest goes back decades. She grew up in Latin America, the great-great granddaughter of the president of Uruguay, Juan Idiarte Borda. She always turns the Casita events into a fiesta, with short speeches and lots of fun. Perhaps that is why they are popular, and why they raise lots of money for the worthy charity.

The choir sang “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” a spirited “Feliz Navidad,” as well as a new anthem, “Casita María Está de Fiesta.”

Jackie Weld Drake, Jean Shafiroff, Rita Cosby, Representative Rebecca Seawright (Photo: Patrick McMullan}

“This is what Christmas is all about!“ Weld Drake said. “This evening makes us all so proud.”

Felix Urrutia, Casita’s new executive director, said, “The mission of Casita Maria is needed more than ever.”

The Casita, a Roman Catholic-based school, is in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx, at 928 Simpson Street. The population it serves has changed over the decades from Puerto Rican to Puerto Rican and Dominican, other Latinos and Blacks. Some 41 percent of residents have less than a high school education, crime rates put the area around Simpson Street as one of the most dangerous in New York City.

“Casita Maria offers school, tutoring, finding a way to success,” Urrutia says.

“In all my years working with students in the Bronx, our work has never been more important.”

In that interest, donations may be made to Casita Maria.

Jorge Gabriel Neira Jr, Jackie Weld Drake, Maria Jose Chusan-Neira (Photo: John Sanderson/The Annie Watt Agency)

At the party, an award was handed to Jorge Gabriel Neira Jr., who accepted with his mother, Maria Jose Chusan-Neira, and his sister at his side. He was presented with the William E. Simon Scholarship award, worth $1,500, given in recognition of academic excellence. His ambition is to become a doctor.

Guests at the evening included board members Martha Bograd, George Corton, Sissi Fleitas, Michele Gerber Klein, Alberto Mariaca, as well as Steven M.L. Aronson, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Mercedes Levin, Alicia Lubowski-Jahn, Liz and Jeff Peek, Marc Rosen, and Sabrina Wirth.

Steven M. L. Aronson, Alicia Lubowski-Jahn (Photo: John Sanderson/The Annie Watt Agency)

Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education, the oldest Latin charity in New York City, provides high quality arts education to more than 1,000 students each day. It offers a welcoming community, enriching and uplifting the area’s youth and their families, and producing well-rounded individuals.