Friends in Action raises money from lake’s GLBTcommunity to provide assistance to needy neighbors
The Cedar Creek Lake area probably wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of anyone’s list of places with a large, visible and active GLBT community. But there are more gays and lesbians in the area than many people might think.
And with the formation last year of Friends in Action, that community is steadily becoming more visible and more active.
C. Jon Stillions, one of five board members for the fledgling organization, said that Friends in Action was born last April after several people became disappointed that money and food collected there over the 2004 holiday season as a donation for the AIDS Resource Center Nutrition Program’s food pantry didn’t make it to the Dallas agency until February.
They decided to create an organization that would be a clearinghouse, of sorts, for the GLBT community around the lake, Stillions said.
“We wanted to give people a way to make donations and be sure their money and their efforts got where they wanted it to go,” Stillions said. “And we wanted to give people in our area a place to go when they needed help.”
Stillions said that lake area residents already knew that a lot of gays and lesbians from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex had vacation homes on the lake, and that the area’s GLBT population tends to swell on weekends and over the summer. And their idea was to be a resource to anyone in the area in need of help.
“We don’t discriminate against anyone in need. But our primary focus is the gay and lesbian community down here,” Stillions said. “We’re finding out there’s more people here than we thought. We’ve been surprised by the number of people down here who need a little help from time to time.”
One of the first people Friends in Action was able to help was a man who needed eye surgery but couldn’t afford to pay the deductible. Friends in Action contacted the man’s doctors and were able to pay those costs so he could have the surgery he needed to restore his sight.
In another instance, Stillions said, Friends in Action helped a family a single mother and her three children whose house had burned.
“They had insurance, but there are a lot of things, personal kind of things, that insurance can’t and won’t replace,” Stillions said. “We had enough money in the bank to take the family to the mall and let them replace some of those things. We also were able to give them some money to pay for rent on an apartment for awhile until they could get their house rebuilt.”
Over the holidays, Friends in Action worked with the American Legion to raise food and money for about 40 families. And the group stepped up to help the local Humane Society when it was in a crunch, too.
“Lisa Jones runs the Humane Society down here, and she had run out of the items she needed to clean out the cages. So we held a fundraiser to help her get those things, and we were also able to give her another $1,000 donation to use however she needed it,” Stillions said.
Stillions said the group has also been a little surprised by the enthusiastic reception they have gotten and the money they have been able to raise in less than a year.
“We didn’t expect to make a lot of money, especially in the first few years,” Stillions said, explaining that the organization already has a tax ID number and is registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.
“But we have gotten a great reception from the locals and from the weekenders. Sometimes, we can raise about $100 in a month. But we have raised as much as $700 in a month. It just depends on what kind of functions we have that month. And no matter how much we make at one time, it all adds up in the bank account.”
The mainstay events for Friends in Action are garage sales and bake sales. But the biggest fundraisers are always the shows, Stillion said.
“We have drag shows and shows with live singers, and people just love those,” he said, adding that those events are held at the local gay nightclub, Friends, operated by James Hazelit, James Gribben and Leo Bartlett.
Stillions said operating the organization is a time-consuming endeavor that has taken a lot of time and effort by volunteers to get up and running. But the results are worth the effort, he said.
“We have had some real successes, and we are really proud of what we have done in such a short time,” Stillions said.
“We haven’t raised just a ton of money. All told, it’s been under $10,000. But it’s all been put to good use. It is just amazing to see how people pitch in and work together when they know of someone in need.”
Contact Friends in Action through C. Jon Stillions at JRAPP2762@peoplepc.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 27, 2006.