[dropcap]More[/dropcap] than 5,000 Oklahomans live with HIV and AIDS. Bringing awareness to the disease and the stigma associated with it, that still exists today, is the reason for the existence of the annual Red Ribbon Gala, which is in its 19th year.
The gala will be held Feb. 27, 2016, at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa. The fundraiser benefits Tulsa CARES, which offers social services to people affected by HIV and AIDS.
This year’s event will honor Patricia Chernicky, who has served Tulsa CARES in many capacities for more than 15 years.
“During that time, she has remained one of our most loyal donors and has served on the board of directors as chairperson and president,” explains Ryan Tanner, gala co-chairman. “She has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Tulsa CARES and has inspired hundreds of our patrons to continue believing in what we do.”
Tanner says that this year’s gala will not be the typical fundraising event for the more than 500 anticipated attendees.
“For years, Red Ribbon Gala was known for an intimate cocktail party before the dinner, live auction and dancing,” Tanner says. “We are thrilled to say we are bringing this experience back, and in a surprising way. Red Ribbon Gala is not an event; it is an experience.”
The evening event will focus on the clients – the heart and soul of the fight – and the donors and patrons.
“We will take this opportunity to educate on this disease and its financial impact on our community; we will speak to the stigma and shame attached to living with HIV/AIDS,” Tanner says. “We will illustrate the power and joy of giving and changing – even saving – lives.”
[pullquote]Treatment is prevention. Keeping our clients adherent to treatment results in lower viral loads and that can reduce the probability of transmission by 96 percent”[/pullquote]Right around the same time as the Red Ribbon Gala, Tulsa CARES will open the doors of its new home. Currently underway is the construction of the new facility, the Charles Faudree Center, which will be completed in March 2016.
“What we do here is in our mission statement,” says Shannon Hall, executive director of Tulsa CARES. “We’re creating a community for those affected by HIV/AIDS through empowerment, inclusion and resources. We’re also working to end the stigma of HIV.”
The center offers housing, case management, mental health and medical and nutrition services for people living with HIV and AIDS. Tulsa CARES currently serves more than 500 people, but the new facility will allow the program to grow to serve at least 1,000.
“It will enhance the experience for our clients,” Hall says. “It will allow for a better nutrition program, more socialization of clients, better case management, on-site testing to move clients directly into care and expansion of our mental health services.”
Hall says the new facility is important because those living in or close to poverty are twice as likely to be infected with HIV. The services Tulsa CARES offers deal with the issues of poverty and living with HIV and AIDS.
“Our job is to make sure our clients are adherent to their drug treatments,” Hall explains. “Treatment is prevention. Keeping our clients adherent to treatment results in lower viral loads and that can reduce the probability of transmission by 96 percent.”
This disease and the stigma that comes with it affects many, but there is hope.
“It is a chronic disease, but you can live a normal life if you stay healthy and adherent to treatments,” Hall emphasizes. “When you consider the life cost of someone living with HIV/AIDS, you realize how expensive it is and what we do here is worth it.”
Red Ribbon Gala
Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016
Cox Business Center in Tulsa
Benefits Tulsa CARES
For ticket information, visit www.redribbongala.org.