ActionAIDS Honors Leaders

Several local leaders received awards for their activism at the 25th anniversary celebration on Saturday

The Arts Ballroom was filled with local leaders and supporters of ActionAIDS as the organization celebrated its 25th anniversary on Saturday. (Photos by Andre Flewellen)

The Arts Ballroom on Locust Street was buzzing on Saturday as leaders, volunteers and community members celebrated the 25th anniversary of ActionAIDS. During a four-hour cocktail reception, awards presentation and silent auction, the community had a chance to look back on many of the organization’s greatest accomplishments.

Mayor Michael Nutter was among the speakers at the event. Seen here, he's greeted by ActionAIDS Executive Director Kevin Burns.

Since its inception in 1986, ActionAIDS has grown from helping just 100 individuals to more than 5,000 in its 25-year history, making it one of the largest organizations of its kind on the East Coast. It now has four offices, with locations in North and West Philly, as well as Center City, providing services in 37 health centers and all of Philadelphia’s prisons and jails.

“Our event Saturday is about our belief that ‘No One Should Face AIDS Alone,'” says Kevin Burns, the executive director of ActionAIDS, who presented several longtime leaders from the organization’s history with awards.

Three Friends for Life awards were handed out at the event to Bob Schoenberg, the first president of the ActionAIDS’s board and current director of the University of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Center; Rev. Jim Littrell, the first director of ActionAIDS; and Anna Forbes, the first staff member to ever work with clients during the early years of the crisis. Each was gracious, making speeches about how profoundly their work with ActionAIDS has impacted their lives. Littrell also took a moment to remember people who were lost, one of the most poignant experiences of the night.

Christopher Bartlett, executive director of the William Way, commended the work of leaders and volunteers at ActionAIDS, saying the organization has profoundly impacted the HIV and AIDS landscape in Philadelphia.

Mayor Michael Nutter was also on hand, along with several other speakers including Christopher Bartlett from William Way and Michael Byrne from ActionAIDS, to commemorate the 25th anniversary, saying that ActionAIDS has saved lives and continues to play an important role in healthcare in Philly, one that he wishes to continue as more people are impacted by the disease. He also thanked the current staff and volunteers for their hard work – many of whom were attending the event.

Following the awards ceremony, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus performed the world premiere of an original composition by Robert Maggio, a former ActionAIDS buddy volunteer, who wrote the piece specifically for the 12th anniversary. They also performed a moving version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” conducted by Joseph Buches.

Throughout the night, the Arts Ballroom was also filled with a lot of memories from the past quarter century including photographs, slideshows, videos and newspaper clippings. Guests also dined on food prepared by Stephen Starr Events (Starr was an ActionAIDS award recipient several years ago).