C.U.R.E., the Collin County-based HIV prevention and education organization, will honor three community members for their years of work fighting HIV/AIDS at a World AIDS Day event in Richardson on Thursday, Dec. 1.
Chris Bengston and Marvin Green will receive the Open Heart Award and James A. Lester will receive the Ryan G. Barrows Award.
C.U.R.E. President Roseann Rosetti said the annual World AIDS Day event was inspired by Glenn Kopanski who was in the U.S. Navy when he had a tonsillectomy and need a transfusion. He was not only infected with HIV but also Hepatitus C. “He wanted to leave as his legacy educating young people, getting rid of the stigma and finding a cure,” she said.
For years, Kopanski was a regular speaker in Frisco’s schools and later spoke to thousands of students in Plano. He passed away in January this year. Rosetti said this year’s event is dedicated in his memory.
Bengston was nominated for the Open Heart Award by the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund, although she might have been nominated by any of the AIDS service organizations in Dallas. As a 30-year employee of Caven Enterprises, Bengston has helped stage fundraisers for every agency.
Over the years her work has been recognized throughout the community. In the 1990s, she received the Howie Daire Award from Oak Lawn Community Services. For years, she cooked a monthly meal for clients at the Daire Center — now part of AIDS Interfaith Network — and cooked holiday meals for them as well.
In 2011, she was named Grand Marshal of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. In between, she’s volunteered for just about every HIV/AIDS organization. She’s worked at the Resource Center Food Pantry when it was located behind the stores on the Strip. She helped bring GayBingo to the Strip.
When the city worried about gay bars being located within a block of an elementary school, Bengston organized employees and customers of Caven bars to make sure that students at Sam Houston had the school supplies they needed at the beginning of the school year, and for Christmas each student got a present. Rather than complaints, the teachers and administration at the school were calling the bars on Cedar Springs Road the best neighbors a school could have.
Bengston has worked on LifeWalk, the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, the Pink Party for the Susan G. Koman Foundation, the Purple Party, the Bear Dance and more. AIDS Arms Director of Development Tori Hobbs said she relies on Bengston’s years of experience for advice.
“You can come to her with any situation or idea and know you’re going to get a well thought out answer that’s going to help,” Hobbs said.
Several years ago, LifeWalk fundraiser and Green Team organizer Marvin Green had a heart attack. When Hobbs entered his hospital room, she saw his LifeWalk T-shirt pinned to wall and said all she could do was laugh as she watched him use his hospital stay as an opportunity to ask doctors and nurses to buy raffle tickets.
Green began raising money for LifeWalk in the event’s second season. He recently said he would have begun sooner, but he didn’t hear about it the first year. For his first LifeWalk, three friends walked together. Today, the Green Team numbers about 25.
That first year, Green said it was sad and they cried a lot, but felt like they were doing something — raising money to help care for others who needed help. Over the years, he said, he lost 26 close friends.
“AIDS stole my entire group of friends in the late 1980s and 1990s,” he said. “I, like so many young people, was no angel, but for some reason, I was spared from the disease. Because of the losses I saw happening all around me each day in those early years and because I had been so very fortunate in my own life, I know I had to do something — to give back and make a difference.”
Since that second LifeWalk, the Green Team has raised more than $315,000. This year, the team set a new one-year record for itself, contributing $42,305 to LifeWalk. “He’s one of those guys who will give you the shirt off his back if he thinks it will help you,” Hobbs said.
In addition to all the money he’s raised himself and all the events his team has staged to raise money for LifeWalk, Hobbs said Green regularly attends and contributes to other teams’ events.
“I have lost so many dear friends,” Green said. “We have lost Green Team members to AIDS. I see the funding cuts that are happening everywhere and the impact it has on people’s lives and chances to survive. It makes the work we do even more important.”
While both Bengston and Green will receive the Open Heart Award, which recognizes people who have volunteered large amounts of time to help people with HIV, Lester will receive the Ryan G. Barrows Award, which honors someone who has dedicated years of his life to helping people with HIV. The award is named after a C.U.R.E. founding board member who died three years ago.
Early in his career, Lester was a part-time nurse at the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic. He has spent 30 years caring for people with HIV and AIDS. “He not only does a lot of volunteer work, but serves on boards and is generous in helping organizations with sponsorships,” Rosetti said.
Among the boards he serves on is AIDS Walk South Dallas, and AWSD President Auntjuan Wiley said Lester is “instrumental in its success.”
Lester, who currently works in cardiac care at UT Southwestern, instilled a sense of the importance of caring for other people in his family as well. “He taught his son to care for people and put others first,” Wiley said. Lester’s son has also become a registered nurse.
In addition to awards and speakers, panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display. In 2014, C.U.R.E. accepted and dedicated six panels that have been sewn together into a new block. They honor Bryan Gray, Annie Adaway, Ryan Barrows, Warren Davolt, Glitz and Glamour, and Resource Center GALA Youth. A panel remembering Resource Center’s first Executive Director John Thomas will be on display as well as the 12-foot X 12-foot signature block from the inaugural Tanqueray Texas AIDS Ride, a bike ride from Austin to Houston to Dallas that took place on Oct. 5-11, 1998.
View panels from the quilt, meet and greet sponsors, award recipients and program speakers at 6 p.m. Program at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1 at Noah’s Event Venue, 2251 N. Greenville Ave., Richardson.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2016.