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It’s everybody’s favorite gala of the year. AIDS Assistance Program’s Evening Under the Stars has served as the the apogee of the charity season in the valley for the 19th year running now. Like the grassroots organization it benefits, EUS, as the locals dub it, is a chance to wrap up high season with the fundraiser that puts the fun back into galas. While it’s a sure bet a few ties will be worn to the event – by the end of the night when The Go Go’s take the stage at the O’Donnell Country club , Saturday, May 5th, those ties will be loosened and dancing shoes will be de rigeur. There’s just something cool about EUS, where the community comes together one night for a great cause, recognize people who make a real difference in our community, and all the while have a stellar time!
I recently had the chance to sit down with Mark Anton, Executive Director of the AIDS Assistance Program to discuss their very special event.
The BottomLine: This is THE major benefit for AIDS Assistance Program, correct?
Mark Anton: Yes, it’s our biggest event and even the cause and effect from what we net from the event draws attention to who we are and most often new attendees of Evening of the Stars end up becoming donors – going …”Oh, I never heard of you guys before.” And so they become donors. So the cause and effect later on, the residual is really great. At $50,000/month approximately in costs to feed people with no federal money, that’s just for the food voucher, so it doesn’t counter our electric, or overhead, or printing, or postage; so we need to raise a lot of money every month. There are only two of us, so it’s a big challenge.
It’s amazing, and I don’t think a lot of people realize how small the core is of the AAP. Which I think is significant in this day and age of “Corporate Charities.”?
Yeah, there are very few “grass roots organizations” left and as you can see from looking around here, it’s pretty basic. We own this space so it’s all paid for. We bought it about ten or twelve years ago and paid about $30,000 for it – it’s a condo but it serves our needs. Any minimal art you see is mine from home so we really are proud that we don’t spend money on the drapings.
It’s really refreshing, and that’s what sets you guys apart. Do you feel that’s why the AAP is growing in popularity as it were, for lack of a better term.?
Yeah, and I think the big thing for me is that we really are a steward for our donors’ money – that money does not belong to us and we have to be as responsible as possible, and as diligent when people come into apply that we are giving it to somebody who does totally deserve it.
Especially with the waiting list of 200, we can’t risk giving it to somebody who doesn’t deserve it. In fact, two years ago we implemented, it’s the same as when you get a mortgage – you have to fill out it’s called a 4506 and mail it to the IRS with a copy of your tax return – because a lot of clients come in here and one of the regulations is they have to earn less than $16,000/year to qualify. So part of your certification, which we do each year on all 500 clients, all 500 get recertified every year.
Have the number of clients walking through the door significantly risen in recent years??
It has and we have people – the thing is, we block out enough funds to serve 500 clients a month. Once and awhile, because they are either in hospital or they have gone to visit family for one or two months, if they are not here and they can’t physically pick up their voucher we don’t give it to them. We figure if you are in the hospital for two weeks the hospital is feeding you – you don’t need it. So we might serve 490 one month, 500 another, then 480. And, sometimes our clients pass away. If they don’t show up for two months we make a phone call and a roommate will say they passed away. The sad thing is we have those other 200 waiting for services and they will be waiting for a long time unless some miracle happens, because probably in a given year we lose maybe 10 – 15 clients. So, a 200 person waiting list, unless things change, is ten years. It’s really sad – and stressful.
That’s lamentable. It’s got to be really hard to get any kind of gifts in this economy. Have you taken a hit??
You know what, I wouldn’t say we’ve taken a “hit”, but I will say I work five times as hard to stay at the same level. That’s why we try to have a different event every month. When I took this job it started out as a 35-40 hour a week job, now it’s turned into 80 or 90.
Let’s get back to EUS, Mark. You’re bringing in some big name talent. Why The Go Go’s this year??
You know, it kind of started when we had Mary Wilson of The Supremes. The whole dance thing started.
It’s fun! It’s not like you sit in your seat for four hours. It’s not stuffy. It’s for fun. So, Mary Wilson kind of started that trend. The first year she came people were literally climbing onto the stage. She had 50 or 60 people dancing with her and from that point on we decided people really like the dancing thing. So after her we had Barry Manilow and then we had Mary back again, then we had Pink Martini – people loved Pink Martini. Then we had the ABBA two years ago, people loved that! Then we had the B52’s last year. Then what happens is we send out a letter every year after the event and ask what suggestions or criticisms do you have? Everyone says they love the dancing, they love the high energy – it makes it fun. You know, we get the ones who say why don’t you get like a Frank Sinatra type thing? The bulk of the people who come are 30 to 60ish and they don’t want to sit in their chair and listen to anybody sing. So, it has evolved into a dance party.
That’s what makes it such a great event. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us Mark. But I see your I Dream of Jeannie bottles up on the shelf and I just have to ask, what gives??
Yeah, I’m so excited! I got these bottles and Barbara Eden is going to come [she’s presenting this year’s awards] and she’s going to sign the bottom of them on stage and then we are going to give the three of them away, when we do our “ask” at the end of the auction, where we say, “Will you donate cash?” The three highest bidders will get a signed Jeannie bottle. They are made by the guy who is the only authorized “Jeannie bottle” producer by the TV network.
So, yeah, we do a few “Thank Yous,” but our awards ceremony and our speeches are quick and to the point. It’s all about having fun. It’s about seeing who’s dressed how outrageously and how creatively. We’re going back to the Eighties this year and The Go Go’s are going to rock! It’s going to be really fun. I’m excited.
If you go?
The 2012 Evening Under the Stars Gala for AIDS Assistance Program
Saturday, May 5, 6 pm, at the O’Donnell Golf Club in Palm Springs, featuring The Go-Go’s. Tickets for the benefit may be purchased by contacting AIDS Assistance Program at 760.325.8481 or by visiting aidsassistance.org.
This article originally appeared HERE.