Cathedral of Hope distributes Thanksgiving baskets

For the 25th year, Cathedral of Hope will offer Thanksgiving baskets to needy Dallas families on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Members of the church are putting together baskets for 400 families that might otherwise go without a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

The baskets will be placed out on the church lawn in Sunday morning between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. The green-friendly recyclable bags or containers will be stocked with a complete Thanksgiving meal — a frozen turkey, potatoes, dressing, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes and three other side dishes, dessert and coffee and tea.

Cathedral of Hope members shop for the meals and create the baskets themselves or contribute $35 to have one made. The Thanksgiving Basket project began in 1986 and is part of the Cathedral of Hope’s Holiday Benevolence program that also includes the annual “Christmas Pac-the-Pantry” and “School Uniform” drive in December for needy families. Contributions to the program can be made online at CathedralOfHope.com or may be sent to Cathedral of Hope UCC, 5910 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, TX 75235.

According to the 2011 Beyond ABC annual report by Children’s Medical Center released this month:

In Dallas County, an estimated 192,502 children — or 29 percent of the total population under the age of 18 — live in poverty. In the city of Dallas the figures are worse.

Within the city, 37 percent of all children live below the poverty line.

More than 183,000 children have inadequate food and poor nutrition. Almost 18 percent of Dallas County children have no private or government health insurance.

—  David Taffet

Trinity Health and Wellness Clinic celebrates grand opening

SHOWING OFF  |  Trinity Health and Wellness Clinic Director Dr. Gene Voskuhl, left, shows off some of the state-of-the-art equipment in the lab during a tour at the clinic’s official grand opening celebration on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The new AIDS Arms facility expects to serve 3,500 clients per year. The cost of medical care and case management by AIDS Arms is $2,800 per year. One emergency room visit by someone who is HIV positive averages $12,000. Since 89 percent of new AIDS Arms clients previously accessed Parkland Hospital ER and no longer do, the agency estimates the new clinic will save Dallas County taxpayers $6 million annually. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

To view more photos from the grand opening, go here.

—  Michael Stephens

LifeWalk steps off Sunday in Lee Park

Nobles says that park will not be fenced this year but is worried about added cost and barrier affecting next year’s event

KICKING UP THEIR HEELS | The LifeWalk organizing committee gets ready for Sunday.

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

New requirements by the city of Dallas could affect proceed totals from this year’s AIDS Arms LifeWalk, and at least one more new requirement is expected to be added to the list next year, according to LifeWalk organizers.

The 21st annual LifeWalk steps off from Lee Park on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. for the 3.2-mile walk. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. Last year’s event raised $401,000 and this year’s goal is $500,000.

Although thousands of people are expected for the event, Lee Park will remain unfenced this year, even though the city has said such gatherings will require fencing in the future.

Officials with the Dallas Tavern Guild, which stages the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and the Festival in Lee Park each year as part of Dallas’ annual LGBT Pride celebration, decided to get ahead of the new requirement by fencing in Lee Park this year for the festival, although the city requirement had not yet gone into effect.

Tavern Guild officials also chose to charge a $5 admission fee to the festival this year to help offset expenses and raise extra funds that will be distributed to parade beneficiaries.

The admission fee raised the ire of some in the community, and attendance at the festival was down compared to last year. But Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman said the drop was not significant, and noted that the admission fee brought in about $25,000 that will be divided among beneficiaries.

But AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said new city requirements have already had an impact on LifeWalk, and she is worried that the new fencing requirements could affect next year’s walk.

“There were a lot more expenses from the city this year,” she said. “It really hits the bottom line.”

The cost of fencing next year will add an additional, unwelcome expense. But Nobles said she isn’t going to worry about that until after this weekend’s event. Right now, her main concern is getting people out to participate in this year’s fundraiser.

“Anyone can participate in LifeWalk,” Nobles said. “You can walk alone or bring friends or join a team. We even have poop-out vans: In case you can’t walk the entire three-mile route, someone will pick you up and bring you back to the park to have a good time.”

She also invited people to just come to the park and cheer.

“We need cheerleaders at the start and finish and at the water stations,” Nobles said. “We have pompoms for anyone who wants to cheer the walkers on.”

Registration for LifeWalk is $40 for people and $10 for dogs participating in LifeBark. People get a T-shirt and dogs get a bandana to show their support for people with HIV.

AIDS Arms is the primary beneficiary of LifeWalk, but other organizations also receive funds from the event, including AIDS Services of Dallas, Legal Hospice of Texas, Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus, Bryan’s House, Resource Center Dallas and the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.

Money raised goes toward programming rather than capital costs. The chorale uses funds for their HIV fund, including giving tickets to performances through the year to people with AIDS.

Nobles praised that effort, saying that socializing is an important holistic element in treating HIV.

The Women’s Chorus will present a program at AIDS Arms in March on National HIV Women’s Day. Those expenses, Nobles said, should be covered by the group’s LifeWalk proceeds.

Nobles said it would be tempting for AIDS Arms to use the money to finish paying off the agency’s new Trinity Health and Wellness Center in Oak Cliff. She said that the new facility cost more than $2 million, and AIDS Arms needs to raise just $35,000 more to pay off the facility.

Trinity Health and Wellness Center opened in September and will have its formal grand opening in two weeks.

But despite the temptation, AIDS Arms will instead use proceeds from LifeWalk to support programs for clients at Trinity as well as at AIDS Arms’ older clinic, Peabody Health Center in South Dallas.

AIDS Arms also uses the money to administer HIV tests to more than 3,500 people a year and for case management for more than 3,400 people.

LifeWalk began in 1990 as a fundraiser for Oak Lawn Community Services. When that agency closed, management of the event moved to AIDS Arms.

LifeWalk Co-chair Marvin Green noted that his Green Team will mark its 20th year of participation in LifeWalk. He said he put the team together for the first time in the second year of LifeWalk because he had already lost 20 friends to AIDS.

That first year, three team members raised $75. This year, the 32-member Green Team has collected about $22,000.

Co-chair Fred Harris said that there were quite a few new teams this year.

“We’re reaching out to new communities,” Harris said. “There’s new energy. We’re branching outside Oak Lawn.”

He said teams are using creative new ways to raise money and AIDS Arms has actively brought in new sponsors such as Chipotle.

“Stoli is coming with a first-ever LifeWalk drink,” Nobles said. Returning sponsor Caven Enterprises will serve beer and Ben E. Keith donated iced tea.

Harris said planning has gone well, and that “LifeWalk is a well-oiled machine.”

Harris said he has seen more use of social media this year than ever, reaching out to people outside the Metroplex.

“This year Facebook has become a very powerful tool,” he said, not just for fundraising but also for recruiting walkers.

Last year, about 3,500 people walked, and this year, “Registration is ahead of where we were this time last year,” Harris said.

Waterpalooza, another AIDS Arms event, was moved to Pride weekend this year, just two weeks prior to LifeWalk. Harris said they took advantage of that event to sign up teams and walkers and generate excitement for this weekend’s walk.

Among the new teams, Harris said, are the DFW Sisters.

“Their efforts have been tireless,” he said. “They raise the bar.”

Nobles said that WFAA Channel 8 morning anchor Ron Corning will serve as M.C. in Lee Park. Although he’s appeared at several events since arriving in Dallas, this is the first big public event the openly gay television host has emceed.

LifeWalk received the Human Rights Campaign family-friendly designation, and Nobles said there will be bounce houses, clowns and face-painting for children.

Harris said the event is pet-friendly as well, “because pets are our family.”

There will be games and puppy pools for dogs as well as doggie adoptions, Nobles said.

She said the day would be a lot of fun but asked people to participate because the need is greater than ever.

“With the growth in the number of newly-infected people in Dallas County who need help in this economy, we’re seeing people who never would ask but must,” she said.

Next year, Nobles said, she would like to see LifeWalk return to Oak Lawn, but new city regulations for events may change those plans. Among the events changing plans this year because of the city involved Lone Star Ride.

Last year, Lone Star Riders participated in LifeWalk on bike. This year, city regulations banned bikes from walks so LSR riders who participate will have to walk.

Green was thinking about bigger plans for future LifeWalks. Other cities that raise more money stage longer walks. He said he’d love to use the new Downtown Deck Park that should be completed next year and dreamed of seeing LifeWalkers crossing the new suspension bridge that should be open in March 2012.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Uncertainty remains over future funding for ASOs

Clerical error rectified by Dallas County, but some agencies worry that more cuts are coming

Steven Pace

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Although initial reports of cuts in federal funding for meals programs for people with HIV/AIDS turned out to be a clerical error,  at least one Dallas County AIDS service agency still worries that cuts are coming.

Resource Center Dallas Strategic Communications and Programs Manager Rafael McDonnell said, “We’re still trying to assess the numbers and trying to see where we are.”

McDonnell said that the food pantry and meals program are not fully funded through government programs.

The agency also relies on a number of other grants from organizations like Mazon and on canned food drives run by community groups and businesses.

“We go into this budget year with a certain amount of uncertainty,” McDonnell said. “We are hopeful there are no cuts. It’s hard to determine if there will be.”

He added that the center will need all those who have supported its programs in the past to continue to do so into the future.

With federal and state governments slashing their budgets, McDonnell said that money could be cut at any time from the programs.

“Until we see the check in our hands,” they don’t count on the money, he said. “We’re doing the best we can, planning in an uncertain future.”

But the grant that comes through Dallas County has been restored for the immediate future for the Resource Center and AIDS Interfaith Network.

AIN relies on the grant money for a third of its meals program budget.

“The county did respond and did rectify the mistake,” AIN Executive Director Steven Pace said.

AIN has a weekday breakfast and lunch program and provides some weekend meals for persons with HIV. Resource Center Dallas runs a hot lunch program during the week.

Pace said that with grants of this type, there is always a degree of uncertainty. Even though the money has been restored for seven months, Congress can decide to cut funding to any program at any time.

He said it is just something nonprofit organizations that rely on government funding live with.

Because of a clerical mistake, funding for meals programs was moved to food pantry programs for the new fiscal year.

When AIN and RCD received emails confirming state grants that are funneled through Dallas County, the money for meals programs was omitted from the budget.

However, the money did not show up in the RCD grant budget even though that agency runs both meals and food pantry programs.

The state fiscal year begins Sept. 1 and final documentation needed to be back to the county by Aug. 12.

When Dallas County found the error, a new email was sent to the agencies. Pace worried at the time that he was missing the deadline to submit his budgets and documentation, but he has been assured the agency would not be penalized.

He said he promptly adjusted his figures and submitted the necessary paperwork to assure no interruption in funding.

RCD also readjusted its figures and resubmitted the paperwork.

Some years, grants are renewed from previous years. Other years, agencies must rebid to receive their funding. This year, money was renewed for seven months and agencies will have to rebid for the final five months.

Although the state funding year begins Sept. 1, the Ryan White fiscal year begins April 1.

“We appreciate that Dallas County corrected the error so quickly,” Pace said.

Even with lag time in receiving the additional funds, Pace said the meals program will continue uninterrupted, thanks to a recent $25,000 grant from the MAC Cosmetics AIDS fund.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

El Paso County votes down DP benefits

Unlike in Dallas County, commissioners were given a firm projected cost and actually took a vote. The El Paso Times reports:

County Judge Veronica Escobar brought up the issue of domestic partner benefits during a budget meeting on Tuesday.

After a discussion, Commissioners Dan Haggerty, Willie Gandara Jr. and Sergio Lewis voted against the measure, choosing not to look at providing health insurance benefits to unmarried couples of any gender. Escobar and commissioner Anna Perez supported the idea.

Escobar said it is in the best interest of the taxpayers to have as many people as possible covered with health insurance in the county. “The more people in our community who are uninsured, the more that it cost taxpayers to fund them,” she said.

Escobar said people with health insurance are more prone to receive preventive health care services than are uninsured people, who can’t afford to see a doctor and tend to use the emergency room at the University Medical Center. Taxpayers pay for services provided at the UMC emergency room, she said.

Analysts estimate it would cost the county almost $23,000 more a year to provide health insurance benefits to the partners of unmarried county workers.

—  John Wright

LANDMARK EVENT

SUCCESS | Lisa Blue Baron, center, keynote speaker for the Landmark Dinner held Aug. 13 at the W Hotel is pictured with Lambda Legal Leadership Committee member Brian Bleeker and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. The event raised more than $120,000 for Lambda Legal. (Photo courtesy Debra Gloria)

—  John Wright

Gary Fitzsimmons on DP benefits: ‘I don’t believe our community should expect anything less’

District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons

In today’s print edition we have a story about Parkland hospital’s decision to begin offering domestic partner benefits — and Dallas County’s decision not to. In the story we quoted openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who criticized the Commissioners Court for failing to adequately study the cost of DP benefits before opting not to offer them due to the budget shortfall. Below is the full text of an email Fitzsimmons sent me about the issue:

It is certainly gratifying that the Parkland Board of Managers has included DP benefits to cover LGBT employees. They join the most progressive public and private institutions in Dallas County in providing such benefits.

I asked former County Judge Jim Foster, a gay man, to direct Dallas County HR and the Budget Office to begin studying this issue and analyzing costs for such an initiative back in 2007.  I was hoping that this information would be available to the new members of the court who took office in January 2011.  Unfortunately, Mr. Foster failed to do so.

I visited with the new members of the court in January of this year and made the same request. It is therefore disappointing to me to find out that the court has not yet directed county staff to study this issue in a systematic way.  The figures provided by the Dallas County public liaison were prepared “off-the-cuff” in response to an inquiry from the Dallas Voice.  This is totally unacceptable.

This issued, because it does involve the potential expenditure of funds, should be studied and analyzed. County staff should prepare a report based on a review of the financial impact encumbered by other jurisdictions and private corporations that provide DP benefits.

I understand that there might not be a majority vote at this moment among members of the court; however, we will never get one as long as the court is not provided sufficient information to make an informed decision.

Amending the Dallas County civil service statute to include protection for LGBT employees is great and admirable. But of course it is largely symbolic and it has little potential financial impact. Supporting an initiative that would have a financial impact in order to bring equality to the Dallas County workplace is where the rubber meets the road. I don’t believe our community should expect anything less.

—  John Wright

Parkland adds DP benefits; Dallas County won’t

County Judge Clay Jenkins, left, and District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons

Fitzsimmons slams commissioners for failing to study issue

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

The domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees at Parkland hospital will soon have access to health benefits, after the facility’s Board of Managers voted this week to approve a proposal first put forward nearly four years ago.

The Board of Managers voted 6-0, with one member abstaining, to offer DP benefits to gays and lesbians who are among the Parkland Health & Hospital System’s 9,400 employees.

The addition of DP benefits at Parkland, which takes effect Jan. 1, is expected to cost $696,635 in fiscal year 2012. But Dr. Lauren McDonald, who chairs the Board of Managers, said offering the benefits will make the hospital more competitive for workers and improve the quality of care it provides to patients.

“I think if anything it eventually enriches us as opposed to costing us money,” McDonald said after the vote, adding that DP benefits have been “a long time coming.”

In September 2007, McDonald pulled a proposal to add DP benefits from the Board of Managers’ agenda at the last minute, citing opposition from “ultra-right wing, homophobic” board members.

Parkland is Dallas County’s public hospital, and the Board of Managers is appointed by the Commissioners Court, which was then controlled by Republicans.

“We opted at the time not to even bring it up,” McDonald told Dallas Voice in 2008. “If you have a vote that’s negative, you send a message.”

After Democrats took control of the Commissioners Court at the start of this year, several new members were appointed to the seven-person Board of Managers. The new members include Dr. Roberto de la Cruz, who is openly gay and made the motion to approve DP benefits on Tuesday.

“It’s a big day,” de la Cruz said after the vote, adding that he trained as an intern at Parkland in the 1990s. “It’s a personal day for me because I come from here.”

The Board of Managers member who abstained from Tuesday’s vote was Jerry Bryant. “I don’t want to discuss it,” Bryant said when asked the reason for his abstention. Bryant was appointed to the Board of Managers by Republican Commissioner Mike Cantrell earlier this year.

Although Parkland is adding DP benefits in 2012, the Commissioners Court has no plans to do so for Dallas County’s roughly 7,000 employees, County Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed this week.

Jenkins, a Democrat who chairs the Commissioners Court and supports offering DP benefits, said he was “very pleased” with the Parkland vote and had lobbied for the change among appointees to the Board of Managers.

“I think that’s the right thing to do for a variety of reasons,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got to recruit and keep the very best staff, and this is an important component of successfully doing that.”

But Jenkins noted that the county is facing a $35 million budget shortfall this year and already plans to cut $5.6 million in employee health care costs — under a proposal that’s set to be voted on by the Commissioners Court next Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Jenkins said he hopes to look at adding DP benefits next year, when the county’s budget shortfall is expected to be smaller. He added that the Parkland board’s vote will “put the county in a better position to favorably consider doing this.”

“I will use the empirical data that arises from that decision in crafting a plan for the county,” Jenkins said.

District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who’s openly gay, said a plan for the county to offer DP benefits should already have been crafted.

Fitzsimmons said he met with the newly elected members of the Commissioners Court —Jenkins and Dr. Elba Garcia — in January and asked them to initiate a study of the cost of offering DP benefits.

But when Dallas Voice inquired about the status of the DP benefits initiative earlier this month, it became clear that no such study had been conducted. Instead, a county spokeswoman provided the newspaper with “off the-cuff” figures, Fitzsimmons said.

The Commissioners Court voted in April to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. But Fitzsimmons called that move “largely symbolic” and said it has little potential financial impact.

“It’s not enough to expect our elected officials to support equality in the workplace when it doesn’t cost them,” Fitzsimmons said. “They need to support equality in the workplace when it does cost them.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Parkland adds DP benefits

Dr. Roberto de la Cruz

The domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees at Parkland hospital will soon have access to health benefits, after the facility’s Board of Managers voted Tuesday to approve a proposal first put forward four years ago.

The Board of Managers voted 6-0, with one member abstaining, to offer DP benefits to gays and lesbians who are among the Parkland Health & Hospital System’s 9,400 employees.

The addition of DP benefits, which takes effect Jan. 1, is expected to cost $696,635 in fiscal year 2012. But Dr. Lauren McDonald, who chairs the Board of Managers, said the benefits will make Parkland more competitive and improve its quality of care.

“I think if anything it eventually enriches us as opposed to costing us money,” said McDonald, adding that DP benefits have been “a long time coming.”

McDonald also chaired the Board of Managers in September 2007, when a proposal to add DP benefits was pulled from the board’s agenda at the last minute due to political pressure. Parkland is owned by Dallas County, and the Board of Managers is appointed by the Commissioners Court, which was then controlled by Republicans.

After Democrats took over control of the Commissioners Court at the start of this year, several new members were appointed to the seven-person Board of Managers.

They include Dr. Roberto de la Cruz, who is openly gay and made the motion to approve DP benefits on Tuesday.

“It’s a big day,” de la Cruz said after the vote, adding that he trained as an intern at Parkland in the 1990s. “It’s a personal day for me because I come from here.”

The Board of Managers member who abstained from Tuesday’s vote was Jerry Bryant. “I don’t want to discuss it,” Bryant said when asked the reason for his abstention.

—  John Wright

Dallas County unlikely to add DP benefits

County Judge Clay Jenkins

Faced with a $35 million budget shortfall, Dallas County is unlikely to begin offering benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees as part of its 2012 budget, a county spokeswoman said last week.

County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Commissioners Court, has said he supports offering domestic partner benefits. The Commissioners Court, which has a Democratic majority for the first time in decades, voted earlier this year to add LGBT employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy.

But Dallas County spokeswoman Maria Arita said last week it costs the county an additional $3,552 for every spouse added to an employee’s health insurance. And according to the Dallas Morning News, the county is already proposing to cut $5.6 million in employee health care costs in 2012.

“It really does come down to dollars and cents,” Arita told Instant Tea. “He [Jenkins] likes equality in the workplace in every way for every employee. There’s just no equivocating about that, plain and simple, and if it were possible to offer all benefits to all employees … then he would do that.”

Jenkins is scheduled to discuss the issue further in an interview with Instant Tea on Wednesday.

The city of Dallas has offered DP benefits since 2004, and Fort Worth added them last year.

—  John Wright