Letter From The Executive Director

December, 2005

Dear Friends:

Thank you for making the 17 th Annual GYPSY OF THE YEAR Competition such a success!

I know there recently have been conversations, questions and perhaps even concerns about “what does BC/EFA do today”. “What is BC/EFA doing now and for whom”? And, perhaps, most importantly, why would you – as the fundraisers who make BC/EFA’s existence possible – work so hard and care?

There was a letter in the GYPSY/YEAR Playbill – so if you read it, this is a bit of a repeat. If not, I hope you’ll take a moment to continue.

Much has changed over the last 17 years. I would dare say that only a handful in the sold-out audiences last wekk were there that day in 1989 at the 1 st GYPSY/YEAR where a few hundred fit comfortably in the orchestra of the St. James Theatre.

Why is the organization still around, working harder than ever before? Why bother? Why so much, so often? Times have certainly changed. Hardly anyone “we know” is dying of AIDS (although tens of thousands – indeed millions – here and abroad still are. But that is the subject of a different letter).

The AIDS Initiative of The Actors’ Fund was created in 1987. As word of its existence spread, social workers at The Actors’ Fund were inundated with requests for assistance, emergency financial aid and in many cases what could only be called “a last ditch” lifeline. Most clients died, quickly. Many wouldn’t allow family members to know how sick they were until the funeral. Partners, friends and co-workers were desperate and heartbroken.

There was little question for those in attendance at GYPSY/YEAR in 1989 that even if you faced hardly any risk of infection, everyone understood the trauma and the need for help.

In those early days of desperation and despair, client needs were best addressed by short-term emergency support that allowed a person – many hundreds of people – to die with some degree of dignity.

Today The AIDS Initiative has developed into a more complex program of crisis management, long-term care and assistance in helping a client to live an active, fulfilling life with HIV.

Yes, since 1996, with the advent of the protease treatments, annual mortality rates have dropped dramatically. Thankfully.But the meds aren’t easy. And anyone thinking they are a panacea for reckless behavior is a fool. Until there is a vaccine, AIDS will always be with us – as, I hope, will the work of The AIDS Initiative and BC/EFA’s ongoing commitment to meet its clients needs.

Nevertheless, even with the best intentions and ongoing prevention/education campaigns, mistakes are made, accidents occur, the ramification of decisions impaired by drugs or alcohol have consequences even after a person has long been in recovery. Judgment is pointless. Prevention/safe sex education is vital. But, ultimately, self-esteem is a person’s best defense, and there is no definitive timetable for acquiring such an invaluable asset.

Here’s the difference between 1989 and 2005. Here is why we still make these tremendous fundraising efforts for six weeks and then come together to put on a show and laugh with and at each other.

In the last 9 years, since 1996, BC/EFA has expanded its support at The Actors’ Fund to include The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, the Actors’ Work Program, the Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, two supportive housing programs (one in NYC, the other in Los Angeles) and other efforts.

This was a specific, strategic decision. By expanding support to everyone helping to raise funds, it assured that money would continue to be raised for people with AIDS even when the issue was no longer “sexy” and no one cared if celebrities at award shows wore a red ribbon.

I assure you – as we move forward from 2005 — when warranted, there will be more of this kind of expansion of support from BC/EFA.

In the meantime, I also promise you this: BC/EFA’s long-time and original commitment to The AIDS Initiative remains steadfast. Even as the epidemic changes and people’s needs morph and/or grow – as long as we can hold a bucket and sell a signed poster, BC/EFA’s assistance will be there for those, like myself, working in this industry and living with HIV/AIDS.

As proof, I offer simply this:

From 1988 – 2005, BC/EFA has provided over $37 million worth of support to The Actors’ Fund. In 1989, no one could have imagined such a sentence. Of that grand total, in this year alone, over $3.4 million was awarded for 8 programs at The Actors’ Fund, including The AIDS Initiative.

Today BC/EFA’s embrace includes anyone – man, woman or child – in crisis or in need of assistance. But it all began – and will always continue to be our primary purpose to provide a safety net for those with AIDS.

It’s an odd thing, this. In order to help what some today might consider a small subset of people in trouble, it is necessary that BC/EFA expand its embrace to help more and to include many who find themselves in times of crisis whether related specifically to AIDS or not.

But as the I Ching says, “the superior man remembers the beginning.”

We must look forward if we are to maintain this provision of services, which today reaches out to thousands in our entertainment and theatrical community alone .

Did you get a flu shot backstage or at the Hirschfeld Free Clinic this year?

Your efforts made those thousands of inoculations possible, as well as producing over $2 million in grant money to The AIDS Initiative, another $500,000 to The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, another $500,000 to the operation of the Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic and much, much more – including another $4 million in grants to 486 AIDS and family service providers in 48 states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico, as well as $465,000 in emergency grants to The Red Cross and 24 AIDS organizations working with people with HIV/AIDS and the displaced in the wake of the hurricanes that hit the New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. 

You make BC/EFA’s work – this good work – possible . I truly believe that, over these 18 years, it is a historical accomplishment.

But as the needs of people with HIV/AIDS and their families have changed from our earliest days, so too must the work of BC/EFA continue to grow, change and respond to current crises and needs.

I hope each of you will want to continue on in this work with us – for all of us.

I hope you want to make sure there is help, before you might someday find that you need help for what could be one of a multitude of emergencies, accidents, illnesses or simply the unforeseen opportunity to recover what has always been the very best about any one of us.  

This is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS today. This is what you are a part of and have made possible today – for yourselves, for your friends and for more people than you will ever know in this brief lifetime. It can only continue with your support.

With great appreciation and all good wishes,


Tom Viola
Executive Director