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Dinner (& Dancing) for Hundreds
AIDS Task Force Fundraiser turns 24
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When the annual Gay and Lesbian Dinner Dance — a fundraiser for the Fort Wayne AIDS Task Force — takes place on Saturday, October 6 at the Grand Wayne Center, it’ll mark the 24th year for the event. In past years, the dinner dance has hosted hundreds of attendees — one year around 1300 people attended — and featured a silent auction, music, performances, and catering from some of the area’s finest restaurants.
The 24th annual dinner dance includes a performance by Scarlet Fever, Fort Wayne’s own burlesque troop.
So, it's a huge celebration, and raises money for a good cause. But Deb Overcash, who has served on the event’s organizing committee since dinner dance #2, remembers when it was held in the reception room above the Chamber of Commerce, and less than a hundred people showed up. The event grew over the years, and Overcash recalls that attendance seemed to really shoot up in the late 90s/early 00s. “It’s a pretty diverse group that attends today,” Overcash says. “We’ve tried to reach out to anybody in the community who wants to attend.”
“I think there’s this perception that it’s a ‘formal’ event, but really, you can make it the event you want,” she adds. “We have people coming in jeans, and people renting tuxes.”
As we said, the event is an fundraiser for the AIDS Task Force, an organization formed in 1985 with the purpose of (in the words of its mission statement) “to help improve the quality of life for men, women, and children with HIV and AIDS, to educate the community in order to decrease the incidence of HIV and STD infection, and to increase public's understanding of and compassionate response to HIV and AIDS.”
Kris Wise, Director of Client Services for the AIDS Task Force, says many of the people they serve are living in some kind of severe economic strife. They also see a lot of people with substance abuse problems and mental health issues. “We try to stabilize folk’s basic needs so they can deal with their health,” she says. “We get folks on insurance plans when eligible; we can assist with transportation to doctor’s appointments; we focus on nutrition specific to the HIV virus. We do financial assistance concerning medical and housing.”
Adds Deb Overcash: “The Task Force has a lot of folks that use their services because they’ve their grants and other funding sources cut.”
The AIDS Task Force also does a lot of education, something which, unfortunately, they are seeing a renewed need for. “The trend we’ve seen is that a lot of clients currently are coming to the agency when they’re sicker than they used to be,” says Jeremy Brames, the Business Manager for the AIDS Task Force. “The new clients are trending younger — several in their 20s — and I think that’s because many people think it’s a manageable disease, so they’re taking more risks than they should.”
You might call it the unintended bad consequences of progress. When the disease first came on the public consciousness in the early/mid 80s, health experts warned of the possibility of a massive epidemic. That that never happened — at least not in the “Western world” — is often partially credited to a massive education effort in the 80s and 90s. And since then, there have been advances in medical treatment for AIDS and HIV, so that the perception is that the disease is manageable. “It’s not the automatic death sentence that it used to be by any means,” says Overcash. “Some folks can live a long time with AIDS now. But it is a difficult disease to manage, it’s clearly a disease that kills, and the AIDS Task Force is trying hard to put that message out there.”
“Folks might meet someone who says ‘oh, I’ve been positive for 25 years and I’m taking these medications,’ but what people don’t realize is that that’s one case out of many,” adds Wise. “This is not an easy disease to manage. You have to be able to withstand the medication treatments, you have to be amazingly adherent to them so they continue to be effective.”
“Folks that are doing well, they usually didn’t have any other health conditions,” Wise continues. “If you can’t tolerate medications in general you’re going to struggle.”
For more information on the Fort Wayne AIDS Task Force visit aidsfortwayne.org.
The Dinner Dance
Saturday October 6
Grand Wayne Center
6:00pm Doors Open/Cash Bar
7:30pm Dinner, Scarlet Fever Performs
9:00pm DJs / Dancing / Live Auction Begin
Tickets: Dance Only ticket $10 in advance ($15 at the door); Dinner and Dance ticket $50; Patron Reception ticket $100 (includes the Dinner & Dance plus VIP admission to the reception at Parkview Field).
You can find more information on the 24th Annual Dinner Dance — including menu and silent auction items — on their Facebook page.