When a group of friends gathered at the Golden Key Club in 1987 for a fundraiser for people living with AIDS, it was a black-tie affair that collected almost $10,000. The event known as Joining Hearts has become less formal over the years, with hundreds frolicking in the Piedmont Park swimming pool each July while setting fundraising records.
In 2010, Joining Hearts raised $125,000 for AID Atlanta and Jerusalem House — the largest total the event has collected in its more than two-decade history, bringing the cumulative donation total to $1,154,500. Organizers have even higher hopes for Joining Hearts 24, which takes place July 23.
“We would like to be able to donate $150,000 this year, which would be a 20 percent increase in what we gave last year,” says Kerry Loftis, president of the Joining Hearts board of directors. “So far, we’re on target for hitting our goal for the year.”
Tickets for this year’s Joining Hearts pool party are already sold out, but others who want to attend can still donate at the patron or sponsor level for admission.
More than the swimsuited bodies, free-flowing liquor and fireworks show that highlight each Joining Hearts party, Loftis believes the event has continued to grow because people trust that Joining Hearts is committed to helping the community. Every dollar raised at the event — from ticket prices to bartender tips — is donated to the two local AIDS charities.
“They realize the importance of what we bring to the community as far as awareness for AIDS and HIV,” says Loftis, who notes that the city’s party landscape has changed significantly since Joining Hearts began.
“Years ago, when I first got involved, Joining Hearts was just one of a lot of parties and events that went on here in Atlanta,” says Loftis, who joined the organizing committee in 2000. “Over the years those have kind of died off, and we’re one of the few big events that is left here in the summer time.”
The longevity of Joining Hearts amid the disappearance of other large parties such as the Hotlanta River Expo has resulted in the event becoming more than a neighborhood pool party.
“Over just the last three years, we’re starting to see a lot more people come in from other parts of the country just to attend this event,” Loftis says. “A lot of people consider the Joining Hearts event to be a big family reunion. You’ll see a lot of people there that you haven’t seen all year long, or even for a couple of years, and all of a sudden you’ll run into them.”
The headlining DJ for this year’s party is Seth Cooper, who is making his Atlanta debut at Joining Hearts. DJ Mike Pope, the resident Joining Hearts DJ, will spin an opening set.
And while the main event remains the Piedmont Park pool party, local nightclubs are also hosting benefit events with top DJ talent to make Joining Hearts an entire weekend of fun. DJ Joe Gauthreaux kicks off Joining Hearts Weekend at the Heretic on Friday night. After Saturday’s pool party, DJ Tony Moran spins for the Joining Hearts After Party at Jungle, followed by DJ Paulo at 3 a.m. at Xion.
Joining Hearts is able to donate 100 percent of its proceeds, and has been able to survive the ebbs and flow of the economy, due to the support from its sponsors. Even in somewhat troubled times, the event has been able to attract more sponsors such as Delta, which is participating in the event for the first time this year.
“For the first year, we’ve actually had sponsors approaching us,” Loftis says. “In the past, we’ve always had to go out and find sponsors, but the event has become so successful, and the organization has become so successful, that we actually have sponsors approaching us now.
“The economy has affected some of our sponsors, and they’re not able to give quite as much as they have in the past,” he adds. “But with the longevity of Joining Hearts and the reputation that we have, even as some of these corporate sponsors and patrons might be cutting back on the amount that they can donate, there’s a lot more sponsors that are coming up to the table and helping making up for that difference.”
Other marquee sponsors include 42 Below Vodka and Grey Goose, who provide the libations throughout the evening, and DJ Mike Pope.
Organizers are reconfiguring the layout inside the Piedmont Park Greystone so that party space isn’t limited to the swimming pool and deck. The new design will also allow for indoor partying in case of rain, but organizers aren’t too worried about the weather.
“Ironically, the times we have had rain in past years on the day of the event, the clouds seem to miraculously clear up right when the event starts,” Loftis says. “We like to think it’s the ones that we lost in the cause looking down on us and getting the universe to cooperate with us.”
Top photo: Joining Hearts draws hundreds to the Piedmont Park pool; the event has raised more than $1 million to help provide housing for people impacted by HIV. (by Sher Pruitt)