Peter Neirouz was working as a mortgage broker in Miami back in 2006, and he was miserable doing it.
The South Florida housing market was nuts back then, with quick-flip investors and high-risk balloon mortgages.
Deep in the doldrums of a profession he hated, Neirouz spent one day walking the length of Las Olas with a friend, all the way to the beach and back.
Returning to their cars, Neirouz spotted a performing arts center. Neirouz had grown up obsessed with live music. He played in the band in high school and college. And when he graduated, his hope had been that he’d work in the performing arts industry.
Neirouz climbed the stairs to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and tried the door. It was surprisingly open, and he found the lobby empty. He grabbed a rack card listing the upcoming shows and just thought he’d come back someday.
Then the theater doors opened, and a mass of kids and their parents flooded the lobby.
“They just came rushing past me, all smiling and yelling and so happy. I just immediately had this overwhelming feeling of contentment,” Neirouz recalls. “I turned to my friend and said, ‘I’m going to work here someday.’”
Twelve years later, Neirouz reports directly to the president of the Broward Center’s Foundation, its fundraising arm. And in 2019, he’s expecting to hit a milestone: the Broward Center’s organization for young professionals that he helped create should hit $1 million in money raised in just a decade.
No matter how many people told us Neirouz was the driving force behind that big number, he won’t take credit for it. That modesty comes from humble parents who fought their way through the classic American immigrant story.
Neirouz’s father, Wagih, moved from Egypt to Cincinnati in 1969. While he had been an accountant back home, in America he took a janitor job at a Kroger grocery store. Taking classes at night, Wagih got his master’s and worked his way to his own CPA firm. He went back to Egypt in 1976 to find a bride and returned just weeks later with Zizi, a social worker he’d spend the next 44 years with.
“You think of the dream immigrant story, and my dad had it,” Neirouz says.
Wagih was a master at Arabic dancing, so good that Egyptian families would ask him to perform at weddings and parties. “My dad was a unicorn,” Neirouz says.
Wagih embraced American music and took his son to concerts. Their last was Lyle Lovett. With dementia and Parkinson’s just beginning, Wagih struggled, but his son looked over to see him beaming. Wagih died in April. Now his son is carrying on the tradition, and if you’ve been to concerts at the Broward Center, you’ve probably seen him.
After Neirouz made a chance visit to the Broward Center in 2006, he applied for a job that day. He started as a volunteer coordinator and then worked his way up to heading the department. In his seven years in the role, Neirouz expanded the volunteers from 600 to more than 1,000.
He also was a driving force behind the creation of the Ghost Light Society. The young professionals organization holds pre-show parties at the Broward Center and a yearly soiree on the stage of the Parker Playhouse. The money paid by dues and donations of its members goes to fund the Broward Center’s arts education programs, and the $1-million mark the group expects to hit this year is just the start, Neirouz says.
“Ghost Light seems to have filled a need for a young professionals group that didn’t exist,” he says. It wasn’t just the social aspect. Neirouz says donating to the arts can be intimidating for younger people, and Ghost Light changed that.
Neirouz moved from the volunteer department to the foundation in 2013 and then became the director of development and membership in March 2017. You might expect someone in this role to be a stuffy bean counter. But he has carried on his father’s habit of being the guy who’s never afraid to get up and dance.
“I will see our board members or donors around town and they will often say, ‘Oh, we saw you dancing at this show or that,’” he says.
Neirouz says dancing at shows helps him remember why he made that career change more than a decade ago. On his desk at work, all these years later, Neirouz keeps a reminder of that day: the rack card he picked up before all those smiling kids came streaming past.
Ghost Light Society Soirée
The Broward Center’s young professionals arm will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a “Secret Garden” theme from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Nov. 3 at the Parker Playhouse. ($125/members, $150/non-members; ghostlightsociety.org)