Palmetto girl to have her ‘dream’ quinceanera thanks to support from local organizations

Norma Sanchez was distressed a week ago — unsure if her daughter’s Paris-themed quinceanera would take place after a year of planning and growing anticipation. The man she said her family rented a Palmetto warehouse facility from for the July 2 celebration was nowhere to be found, and the 33-year-old mother of four didn’t know whether the venue was still secured.

She was sad for her 14-year-old daughter, Celeste Sanchez. The quinceanera — or quince as it’s commonly known — is a lavish 15th birthday party that symbolizes a girl’s transition into young womanhood. It is especially important to Sanchez because she and her husband have only one daughter.

Since hearing Sanchez’s story, the Bradenton Kiwanis Club and the Manatee Performing Arts Center have offered to hold her daughter’s quince at the center. Pier 22, in downtown Bradenton, has offered to donate food.

“I appreciate everything that everybody has done for us,” Sanchez said from her Palmetto home Tuesday afternoon. “I felt prayers from everywhere. It was awesome. It really was.”

A smiling Celeste sat quietly beside her mother on a couch.

“It felt like a dream. I told my daughter yesterday, ‘It feels like a dream.’ It didn’t feel real,” Sanchez said about the outpouring of support. “It’s amazing how, even though I felt so bad that I wasn’t going to have a 15th (party) for my daughter, now it’s like I have more than I ever expected.”

Edward Nicholas, president of Bradenton Kiwanis and a Manatee Circuit Court judge, said he felt terrible for Sanchez after reading an article published in the Bradenton Herald.

Sanchez and other Manatee County residents say they’ve fallen victim to a booking scam by Jeremy Alsina, 38. They claim Alsina accepted payment for use of a rental facility at 5012 U.S. 41 N., Palmetto, but later disconnected his cell phone and was unresponsive — leaving many panicked and questioning whether they can still count on having a venue for assorted birthday parties, baby showers and weddings.

“We were able to pull together some very good-hearted citizens who have stepped up and helped solve this woman's dilemma,” Nicholas said.

In addition to providing its hall inside the Manatee Performing Arts Center for Celeste’s quince, Bradenton Kiwanis is providing the funds for setup and cleanup. The center is organizing the event, Nicholas said, adding many other people and organizations offered to help. The Moose Lodge 2117 in Palmetto also offered its space for the Sanchez family.

Janene Amick, executive director of the Manatee Performing Arts Center and president-elect of Bradenton Kiwanis, said she met with Sanchez earlier in the day and it went wonderfully.

“Making a difference in a special day is part of who we are,” she said.

No charges have been filed as of Tuesday, but Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow confirmed the suspect is Alsina. One more victim has come forward to the sheriff’s office, Bristow said. Ten others have already complained.

“The case is still under investigation and we want to make sure, if people have any information on this, they need to call us,” Bristow said. Anyone with information is encouraged to call 941-747-3011.

Alsina did not respond to an email request for comment, but Sanchez said Alsina told her he was going to try to return her money. According to Bristow, detectives have not talked to the suspect yet, but did make contact with his business partner.

“We have not located the suspect, who is out of state, we’re being told,” Bristow added. “We’re trying to confirm some things here as far as ownership of the facility.”

Back at home, Celeste said she is really happy.

“I’m very thankful for what they did,” she said. “It means a lot to me. ... it’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. It’s every girl’s dream to have a Sweet 16 or a quinceanera.”

Amaris Castillo: 941-745-7051, @AmarisCastillo