In mid July, amidst the rolling Austin heat, throngs of locals turned up at downtown’s sauciest nightclub, Oilcan Harry’s to check out an impressive silent auction, enter a drawing for Kathy Griffin and Melissa Etheridge concert tickets, take in live performances from the Altar Boyz and the Therapy Sisters, saunter up to the champagne bar and have a gander at some of Austin’s most chic characters. But the best thing about the entire evening was that it was all in support of a truly worthy cause.
The event was the 17th annual Red Hot, a fundraiser for Project Transitions, an Austin nonprofit dedicated to serving people with HIV and AIDS by providing hospice and housing services and support in a compassionate environment.
“The goal of our agency is to deal with the reality of the disease,” says Jason Rosen, media outreach coordinator for Project Transitions. “We want to respond to people most in need in our community. But the most blessed thing about the agency is that it’s so dynamic and changes to fit the needs of our clients.”
The nearly 20-year-old organization serves about 140 people in all of its hospice and housing facilities, which translates to some 20,000 days of service every year, Rosen says. And though the group’s annual budget is about $1.2 million, up to an astounding 65 percent of Project Transitions’ funding is privately sourced from fundraising events, successful grants and revenue from its Top Drawer Thrift store.
“The majority of income is coming from the generosity of our community, our donors and our creative means rather than federal, state and city funding,” Rosen explains.
That’s particularly why events like Red Hot are so important for the nonprofit and its clients. At this year’s event, Project Transitions raised an incredible $20,500 for its pro- grams, only $1,000 short of its 2007 record-breaking Red Hot event collection.
“Project Transitions was created in response to what our founders were seeing around them in the 1980s,” Rosen says. “They knew they needed to respond to this epidemic because there was no medical knowledge about handling the disease at the end of life. And we’re still the only group in Central Texas with a hospice for people dying of AIDS.”
Project Transitions’ five-bedroom residential hospice – named Doug’s House after Doug Key, one of the early organizers who died in 1991 – is staffed 24 hours a day with professional registered nurses, as well as a support staff.
Additionally, Project Transitions maintains several transitional housing programs: Roosevelt Gardens, Community Housing and Highland Terrace – all of which provide a supportive environment for individuals (both gay and straight, men and women, from a variety of ethnicities) and families living with HIV and AIDS. According to Rosen, there’s a 93 percent occupancy rate for all housing locations. But remarkably, 85 to 90 percent of clients involved in the housing programs eventually move into other stable accommodations. And many, grateful for the care, return to volunteer with the nonprofit.
No person is ever refused service for inability to pay, which means the entire financial burden lies with the organization. That’s another reason the group’s annual fundraising events are so crucial. But Rosen admits that the Project Transitions board and staff are constantly concerned about the future.
“Our events have helped us grow and now they’re helping us maintain our programs,” he says. “But the question has become, how do we continue with that trajectory? In terms of outreach to the gay community, we need to step it up. And we need to reach out to a younger contingency of people who can provide us with strength and vitality. We truly look forward to the day when we’re no longer needed.”
Check the Project Transitions website for more info: www.projecttransitions.org