AIDS Fund’s annual Black Tie Gay BINGO will kick off at 6:30 p.m. April 1 at The Crystal Tearoom, 100 Penn Square East.
The event, modeled after the agency’s monthly BINGO fundraisers, generates funding for various HIV/AIDS service organizations in the region that AIDS Fund supports.
In addition to the scores of BINGO games, the event will feature dinner, dancing and a silent auction.
AIDS Fund will also present several longtime supporters with its annual awards. The Founders’ Award will go to band The Dukes of Destiny, which plays each year at AIDS Fund’s AIDS Walk, while the Favorite Straight Person of the Year Award will be presented to the Rev. Marlene “Mike” Haines. The Ferrara Family Volunteer Awards will go to Joe Shenk and Howard Traivers.
Haines recently retired as the assistant rector of St. Luke and The Epiphany, where she headed the church’s Hospitality Center, which has ministered to the HIV/AIDS community since 1997.
In 1989, the center provided office space for AIDS Fund as it was getting off the ground, and has long supported other HIV/AIDS service organizations and the community with a series of programs and activities for people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
“It’s been getting harder to keep people aware of the devastation of the disease and its impact, so a lot of what the center does is to keep that awareness alive,” Haines said. “And we try to make people aware that there is a church, a Christian community, that says we know HIV exists and that HIV-positive people are welcome here.”
Haines has been a constant presence in the Gayborhood and, during last year’s OutFest, after witnessing the hateful messages by antigay protesters, constructed her own “Don’t Believe It — God Loves You” signs at the St. Luke’s booth to greet guests approaching the protest.
Haines said her time at St. Luke ministering to the HIV/AIDS and LGBT communities has been invaluable to her personal growth, and she’s grateful that AIDS Fund appreciates that contribution.
“It’s an honor for the community, for St. Luke and The Epiphany, who gave me the opportunity to work in the neighborhood. It’s an acknowledgment that we all need allies. My life would be a lot less without the full complement — the full range of who people really are — black, white, red, blue, gay, straight, trans. I live in the suburbs, and a lot of people there pretend that gays don’t exist or that HIV doesn’t exist. God loves diversity, and I think the world is richer and deeper because of that diversity.”
Like Haines, Shenk has also been a familiar face to the AIDS Fund community.
Shenk has served as a volunteer at the monthly Gay BINGO events since 2002, overseeing ticket sales as guests arrive.
When he started volunteering, Shenk was new to the area and looking to get involved in the city’s LGBT scene, and was connected to AIDS Fund through a friend who’d volunteered.
That friend has since stopped volunteering, and Shenk said he’s seen a bevy of changes coming through the agency in his time, although he hasn’t tired of it yet.
“I know sometimes people who volunteer get burned out and might leave and come back. I’ve seen volunteers change and hosts change and even the staff changes, but that has kept it fresh for me in a way,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people there and have made a lot of friends I know I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I tend to dedicate myself to something and, unlike with a job that you could lose through no fault of your own, with volunteering you can just keep doing it and doing it and doing it.”
Shenk rarely gets to sit and play the games at the event because he’s working, and said receiving the award will be a welcome affirmation of his commitment to the agency.
“It’s really humbling,” he said. “I’ve been there fairly long but I wasn’t expecting this. It really reinforces my belief in this cause and this organization and makes me realize that as long as I’m able to, I’m going to keep volunteering for them.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.aidswalkphilly.org
or call 215-731-9255.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.