AIDS Care Rochester has plans to expand health care options for the area's LGBT community and expand its research on HIV and AIDS. To help fund these initiatives, it is adopting a fundraising concept popularized in other major cities.
The organization is sponsoring a "White Party" in September, a high-end gala held at the Century Club on East Avenue for which attendees will wear all white. Since its inception 25 years ago, the White Party has become a signature fundraiser for HIV/AIDS organizations, AIDS Care officials said.
The Sept. 8 gala, whose tickets cost $125 a person or $240 per couple, is expected to raise $80,000, event chairwoman Lisa Cove said.
Cove, a volunteer who has worked on galas and other events for local non-profits, ran into AIDS Care medical director William Valenti last year and discussed planning some kind of benefit. Cove said she did not know exactly what it would be, just that the fundraiser needed to be something "that would blow people away and knock their socks off."
Then she saw pictures on Facebook of a White Party in Buffalo; seeing how successful it had been, she decided to import the idea to Rochester. Cove thought it could raise money and the profile of AIDS Care while also helping Rochester to become more prominent in the event and fundraising world.
"Rochesterians want to be a big city, so we've got to bring in some things that big cities have," Cove said. "We already had a successful fashion week, and the White Party is another thing that cities like Miami and Montreal and New York have done."
The White Party already has gotten support from local businesses and media organizations, with WXXI signing on as a sponsor. Cove said her plan is to create a successful event that can then be handed over to the AIDS Care officials to run in the future.
Funds from the gala will support an expansion of AIDS Care's research program. In addition to the organization's work with the HIV vaccine unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center, AIDS Care is looking to expand its recruiting for vaccine trials.
"In order to do those vaccine trials, we need to beef up our infrastructure in terms of our information management and staffing," Valenti said.
The world of HIV vaccination is expanding rapidly, Valenti noted. People are beginning to talk about the idea of HIV eradication, a sterilizing cure that would purge all traces of HIV from the body, he said.
Though this achievement may still be some distance away, Valenti noted that medical researchers already have the tools and some of the drug treatments needed for HIV eradication.
"It's just a matter of taking another look at what we have already and what we need to do the job," he said. "There are a number of clinical trials that are beginning to look at the possibility of eradication activity, so we're trying to beef up our research office to be able to handle a study that is enormously important for individuals and all public health."
AIDS Care plans to grow in other ways as well, Valenti said. The organization is putting together a primary-care health program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, a group that he noted has not received the highest level of care in the past.
"We looked at a number of studies and government agencies that looked at the health issues in this population, and our feeling is that LGBT people as a group are underserved in terms of getting into health care and staying there," he said.
The organization already is serving roughly 750 patients in this community, Valenti said, and it offers free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
AIDS Care provides care to a small number of transgender individuals already. These people often have difficult or complicated health care requirements, Valenti said. Those receiving hormone therapy can need frequent attention to ensure that the delicate balance in their bodies is maintained, he said.
"It's fairly complex in terms of male-to-female transgender persons, and they need experienced people to manage those treatments," he said.
With the pieces of a larger health care system already available, Valenti said AIDS Care will be rolling out a complete system in 2013.
AIDS Care was created in 2010 with the merger of two local organizations, AIDS Rochester and AIDS Community Health Center. The merger left AIDS Care as the sole agency locally whose mission is to provide support and services for patients with HIV and AIDS.
Valenti said the merger was the precursor to the expansion taking place this year, a move that allowed a wider range of services to be provided to HIV/AIDS patients.
"That's how our services evolved, where two organizations thought, 'We could do a better job together as opposed to being alone,' and then a strategic planning process that confirmed that idea," he said.
Though the program is still in the development stages, Valenti said he envisions the LGBT primary-care system eventually having its own identity and location.
"When we reach a critical mass of patients, this will become a separate unit of this entity," he said.
To find the funding needed to start the program, AIDS Care is looking to a number of foundations, both local and national. Once up and running, the center would pay for itself through patient billings, Valenti noted.
Other organizations in Upstate New York that started similar initiatives have opened quickly and used an approach of learning as they go, Valenti said. But AIDS Care is working on a business plan that would more clearly delineate the funding issues and also create a budget for the program before opening.
Though the organization is being careful with its approach, Valenti said it is aggressive nonetheless.
"We're going to do it the right way, with a solid business plan, but I'm an impatient guy, so we need to be pushing the envelope as well," he said.
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