This year's annual Artie Awards were so successful as a fundraiser for Erie County Medical Center's Immunodeficiency Services Department, the money raised was double last year's.
The Arties have long been key to fundraising for the hospital serving people with HIV and AIDS. ECMC's Immunodeficiency Services has about 1,000 people living with AIDS on its patient rolls, increasingly from immigrant groups.
"Since the beginning - because we're 28 years of Arties, you just do the arithmetic - AIDS was raging, not understood at all, terrifying," said Anthony Chase, Arties founder and co-host of WBFO's Theater Talk, "and if you look at some of the attendees of that first night of the Artie Awards, they're not with us any more because of that disease."
The awards all come together at an annual ceremony, which was held June 4 at Shea's 710 Theatre. On Monday, the check for the proceeds was presented in the Theater District's Plaza of Stars in front of the theatre by WNED|WBFO President and CEO Donald Boswell.
"The whole idea behind the Arties is we recognize the theater community. We do some real good though, too," Boswell said. "I think we're proud to be the media sponsor, but the real work goes in with the theater community who are raising funds for an important organization, ECMC, who though has the HIV and AIDS clinic and the work you're doing is God's work."
Kasey Jonmaire, senior director of outpatient services at ECMC, said the $40,000 will be put to good use.
"One thing that we want to do in the clinic is we want to build an education center, so a center, put some computers in there so our patients that come to the office and other community members can do some research," Jonmaire said, "and also we are going to have some Legal Aid come in and provide some legal advice for people and all sorts of things like that. So that's our main focus."
Luis Rodriguez, a peer navigator in the program, who educates those at risk for the virus, how to prevent infection and what to do if infected. Rodriguez said a lot of young people think there is a pill for a quick cure.
"They do - and I think a lot of that is the age," he said. "A lot of kids, in general, tend to think, 'Well, I'm invincible to anything' and 'Oh, it's a pill, it's going to fix everything.' Part of what I have to deal with is letting them know: No, it's not the end of your life, but it's never going to be curable, at this point in time. Are they still working on it? Yes."
Rodriquez is also a patient.
"As a patient, myself, and being on ARVs myself for the last few years, I think they've come a long way in helping all of our patients, including myself, stay healthy, being undetectable and untransmittable," said Rodriguez, "and being able to share that with fellow patients, to me is rewarding."