A sea of bodies partying poolside in Piedmont Park doesn’t usually conjure up the mental image of altruism, but on July 21, the Joining Hearts main event pool party will mark its 25th year of helping people living with HIV/AIDS.
The equal beneficiaries of the fundraiser are AID Atlanta, the city’s largest HIV service provider, as well as Jerusalem House, Atlanta’s oldest and largest provider of permanent housing for low-income and homeless individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS.
“It started out in 1987 as one small black tie gala. Now, we have six different types of events throughout the year. The pool party is our biggest,” says Kerry Loftis, president of Joining Hearts. “It generates close to 50 percent of all of the funds that we raise for housing people living with HIV.”
Last year, Joining Hearts’ fundraising goal was $150,000 for Jerusalem House and AID Atlanta.
“We actually surpassed that goal and were able to donate $180,000,” says a proud Loftis. “We raised the bar this year. We set a really lofty goal of $250,000, which is an enormous increase over last year. Times are tough and people need more assistance now so we want to contribute more. We also set it at $250,000 to try and commemorate our 25th year doing this event.”
The party is notorious for selling out early and this year is no exception. General admission tickets are gone and since capacity can’t increase and ticket prices stay consistent, the revenues from the event need to increase by new sponsorship and new patrons in order to meet the new goal.
“Over the last few years, our corporate sponsors have really increased. Delta Air Lines is a big one that we started working with last year. We’ve been able to grow these sponsorships including local businesses like the 5 Napkin Burger, Zocalo, Las Margaritas… businesses like that.”
Loftis has observed that the Joining Hearts brand has been so successful that businesses are now seeking them out for sponsorship of their events.
“We used to have to go out and try to get sponsors for our events but in the past few years, they’ve started to come to us. The Joining Hearts name and brand has attracted a lot of these sponsors. It all boils down to how well we’re tied to the community. At the end of the day, the community support and the contributions are what drives our donations and attracts sponsors,” he says.
DJs, fireworks and more
The pool party this year will have a few special surprises, according to Loftis.
“We’re going to have some local personalities that will be making an appearance at the event. We’ve upgraded the VIP lounge this year. In addition to having premium liquors, the Delta flight attendants will be serving cocktails. They’re very popular with the guests. They will come and wait on our VIPs and they donate their tips to Joining Hearts. We also have a great tradition of having fireworks to remember those who we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS,” he says.
There is no big, gay pool party without a DJ, so Joining Hearts is bringing in a blast from the past for this anniversary celebration.
“Some years ago, Don Bishop was a really popular DJ at these parties. We wanted to bring him back and give him an opportunity to spin. He played back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the AIDS crisis was really erupting. We want him to bring back some of the old dance music that the guys down here love,” Loftis says.
In addition to Don Bishop, Joining Hearts has invited DJ Roland Belmares from Los Angeles to spin.
“He’s been our DJ on several occasions. We took a survey last year and he was one of the favorites that our patrons wanted to have back for our 25th anniversary so we’re bringing him back,” says Loftis. “We’re stepping back to that time where we originated in the 1980s and how we’ve progressed over the years. We’re trying to bring back some nostalgia from the past and take us to the present day and into the next 25 years.”
For Jerusalem House and AID Atlanta, the party is more than a trip down memory lane. It’s about the survival of the people that they serve.
Jon Santos, co-interim executive director of AID Atlanta, explains the importance of these funds.
“The funds that Joining Hearts gives to AID Atlanta specifically go to housing assistance. It helps our clients with rent/mortgage or utility payments. It fills a gap for about 300 people who directly benefit from the fund each year. They have nowhere else to go to when they have to make a decision between paying for medications that will keep them alive or keep a roof over their heads,” Santos says.
“A few years ago, the amount of rent was 15-20 percent less than it is now. When Joining Hearts gives us money, we break it up into 12 months and that helps us administer it so we don’t run out of it in the first month or two,” he says.
Although admission to the event is sold out, there is one way that is still possible for party-goers to gain entrance.
“People can still go to our website and become a patron starting at the $250 level. We still have a good ways to go towards the $250,000 goal. If people go to our website to sign up to become a patron or even a corporate sponsor, then they would still be allowed to come to the event as a VIP guest. But they need to do it now,” advises Loftis.
Top photo: Last year’s Joining Hearts raised more than $180,000 for Jerusalem House and AID Atlanta. (by Dan Lax)