It was the community that saved my life when I first tested positive for HIV many years ago.
If Kristofer Fegenbush and Robert Boo (of the Pride Center at Equality Park) had not immediately taken me under their wing and connected me to the Center’s “LIFE” program (https://bit.ly/pclifeprog), I doubt I would be living a life that resembled anything close to the life I live today. Not all the work fell on Kristofer or Robert; neither knew me personally then, but both personally connected me to a community of people who helped me heal and discover my worth.
The COVID-19 pandemic robbed us in many ways of our connection to our community for nearly two years. To protect ourselves, and each other, it was critical for us to avoid the sort of in-person gatherings that our community had come to love: galas, celebrations, fundraisers, and the like! During the pandemic, many private donors and community organizations (e.g., Our Fund) stepped up in big ways to continue to fund the causes and critical needs faced by our community. Just because we weren’t hosting fabulous fundraisers didn’t mean the need went away — in fact, it increased.
We’re finally beginning to safely emerge from COVID-19. Last weekend played host to SunServe’s 20th Anniversary Gala, named “SHINE.” I had the distinct honor of serving as the host committee chair and take great pride on behalf of our community in acknowledging that the event not only sold out (320 tickets!) but raised significantly more than intended — $250,000+ in a single night and still counting. Our community really shined, showing up and giving generously to support SunServe and their support of our Greater Wilton Manors Community. SunServe will use this money wisely, serving the most at-risk and in need within our community with mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, housing assistance and other critically needed services.
If the night’s success was not enough, the weekend continued with the return of Lambda Legal’s annual fundraiser at Bonnett House. While I haven’t heard the final number, I understand it was Lambda Legal’s most successful fundraiser in our community. Lamba Legal continues to fight for the rights of the LGBT community and our allies in our community and beyond.
- Chris Caputo, Wilton Manors Commissioner