The National AIDS Memorial Grove commemorated World AIDS Day with two days of events honoring leaders instrumental in the fight against AIDS, and whose extraordinary work has made a significant impact during the more than thirty years since the first diagnosis of AIDS in the United States. This year’s honorees symbolize the spirit of the Grove and its collective mission and work to fight against AIDS.
Light in the Grove
On November 30th, the eve of World AIDS Day, the National AIDS Memorial Grove once again held its annual Light in the Grove gala fundraiser, which brought together more than 500 supporters, volunteers and community leaders for an evening of remembrance, renewal, commitment and reunion. This iconic event offers a nighttime journey through darkness and light, loss and hope. A sell-out the past three years, Light in the Grove offers a unique evening experience in Golden Gate Park; an outdoor, transparently-tented celebration with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner, featuring music, performance, art and brilliantly evocative, surreal and technical displays of light.
This year, we were thrilled to have as co-chairs the original three creators of Macy’s Passport: Patrick Smith, Laura Heffron, and Larry Hashbarger, whose extraordinary talents helped to raise $28 million for HIV/AIDS charities and research projects over twenty-seven years.
Tim Hanlon, President of the Wells Fargo Foundation, was presented with this year’s Lifetime of Commitment Award. Tim helped change the direction of corporate philanthropy in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, leading Wells Fargo to become a strong advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs. His powerful voice set a path for others to follow, making support for AIDS funding mainstream in corporate philanthropy. Tim has helped lead Wells Fargo to provide more than $17.8 million to local AIDS-related causes around the country during the last decade, with more than $575,000 donated to the Grove. Wells Fargo and its employees have also given more than 5,000 volunteer hours to support the Grove and helped secure critical funding to ensure that the Grove remains an important part of the national landscape, informing future generations of the American story of AIDS.
Click the links below for photos of Light in the Grove:
World AIDS Day Observance
During the World AIDS Day ceremonies at The Grove on December 1st, the National Leadership Recognition Award was awarded to Phill Wilson. Phill is the founder, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on Black people. With a long history of advocacy work, Phill is a well-known and respected national leader and HIV/AIDS expert. For five years, Phill was Chair of the Ryan White Planning Council and instrumentally involved in the crafting of the Ryan White CARE Act. He was also a member of the HRSA Advisory Council, the Board of Directors for AIDS Action, Co-Chair of the Los Angeles County HIV Health Commission and Director of Policy and Planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles. More recently, Phill was an opening-day plenary speaker at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. Phill is actively involved with other local and national community-based and AIDS service organizations, including serving on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
Franco Beneduce was awarded the Local Unsung Hero Award posthumously on World AIDS Day. Throughout his life, Franco was involved in LGBT causes and issues. He was the visionary creator and producer behind the annual Light in the Grove event at the Grove, and the Folsom Street Fair’s Magnitude after-hours dance party. He lived by the motto, “Go big or go home.” In the mid 90’s, Franco co-hosted Closet-Free Radio, one of the first commercial gay/lesbian radio talk shows in the country. He also produced Rhode Island’s AIDS Walk. He lived in the Bay Area for two decades, where he raised funds for and supported various LGBT nonprofits, including the Folsom Street Fair and the Grove. Franco was a creative genius, whose love of beauty was matched only by the magnificence of his heart. Besides his numerous creative achievements, Franco’s proudest accomplishment was the two boys he was helping to raise, and his extensive community of friends.
Financial scholarships ranging from $1000 to $2500 were awarded this year to nine college students from six states as part of the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s Young Leaders Scholarship Program, which culminates each year on World AIDS Day. The scholarships are funded annually through a generous grant provided by UnitedHealthcare. Two scholarship awardees, Laura Potter and Jose Comi, took the stage at the World AIDS Day Observance, and shared their perspectives on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the younger generation, and their goals as future leaders in the fight against the disease.
The Grove was deeply honored to celebrate the tireless and passionate work of Tim, Phill and Franco and their life-long commitment to the AIDS community, and the Grove’s mission. Their collective leadership has made a tremendous difference in the lives of so many people and organizations who have been touched and inspired by their pioneering spirit. Additionally, the Grove takes great pride in helping to develop the next generation of leaders through its Young Leaders Scholarship Program, and encouraging continued public service and careers that will one day lead to a cure.