Youth First Texas won’t receive funds for 1st time in several years; Samaritan House, Home for the Holidays added to list from 2011


TAKING IT IN STRIDE | Members of Youth First Texas accept a beneficiary check from Black Tie Dinner in 2008. For the first time in several years, YFT won’t receive funds from the dinner in 2012. However, YFT board chair Chris-James Cognetta insists the organization is financially strong and says it will contribute volunteer hours to the dinner anyway. (Dallas Voice file photo)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Black Tie Dinner announced its 18 local beneficiaries that will split proceeds from the November fundraising event with the Human Rights Campaign.

For the first time in a number of years, Youth First Texas isn’t among the beneficiaries. One first-time and one past beneficiary join 16 others that participated in the event last year.

“We are excited to have a new beneficiary join us this year, Samaritan House, as well as a returning beneficiary, Home for the Holidays,” BTD co-chair Chris Couvelis said. “They join a great list of organizations that do so much for our community and are the very reason that Black Tie Dinner exists.”

Samaritan House President and CEO Steve Dutton said he was excited to be selected as a first-time beneficiary.

“The programs at Samaritan House have been providing lifesaving and life-changing benefits to men and women in the GLBT community for 20 years,” Dutton said. “We look forward to sharing our story with those who will be attending the event this fall and we hope to add many more tables with our friends from Fort Worth and Tarrant County.”

Youth First Texas board chair Chris-James Cognetta was gracious about the loss of funding for his organization. Money from the dinner accounted for less than 20 percent of the organization’s annual budget.

“We have endured shortfalls far greater than this and weathered many a storm in the 13-year history of our organization,” Cognetta said. “We are financially strong, our programming is rich and our attendance is up.”

He promised to remain involved in Black Tie events through this year. The organization, which teaches good sportsmanship, he said, will use this as a lesson in humility.

“Youth First Texas will continue to support Black Tie Dinner 31, through volunteer hours and supporting their efforts right up to the close of the event,” he said. “Through this exercise, the youth will learn that in life there is certainly disappointment.”
But he called it a challenge.

“Sustained giving is our priority,” he said.

Youth First Texas had already kicked off a fundraising challenge to its board and donors to raise $10,000 by June 1. Within the first two weeks of the campaign, about $4,000 had been pledged.

In addition to its two signature events — Gaytona 500 and Hall Street Journal — there are tentative plans for a late fall stage event at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.

Dallas Bears has been a major donor to YFT and the youth group is a major beneficiary of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

“Although selecting beneficiaries is one of the most important things we do, it is also one of the toughest decisions we make as a board,” said BTD co-chair Mitzi Lemons. “Every beneficiary candidate application is reviewed each year and not all are or can be accepted. But that certainly should not reflect on their great work. We want to continue to work with those who make a difference and hopefully see them return to that list in the future.”

Youth First Texas serves more than 1,200 individual youth each year. The organization operates with only one part-time staff member.

Rodd Gray, also known as Patti le Plae Safe, serves on the Black Tie Dinner board of directors and is a founder and president of Home for the Holidays. The group arranges and pays for transportation home for people with AIDS. When the organization began in the early 1990s, most people were sent home over Christmas for a last visit with family before they died.

“What we do is give a ray of hope,” Gray said. “Without Black Tie Dinner support, that ray wouldn’t shine as bright. An affair of the heart, this year’s theme, is what we do. We’re so happy to be chosen again.”

Beneficiaries of Black Tie Dinner must be North Texas nonprofit organizations that provide significant service to the area’s LGBT community and use a majority of its funds for direct programs, services or activities.

Once accepted, beneficiaries must fulfill a number of requirements including filling at least five tables of 10, purchasing an $800 Dinner Journal ad, selling at least 25 raffle tickets at $100 each and providing at least 50 volunteer hours.

Half of proceeds from Black Tie go to local beneficiaries, while the other half goes to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Each of the 17 local beneficiaries of the 2011 dinner received between $21,500 and $63,000. The number of seats and tables sold as well as other participation levels determines the return. In its 30 years, the dinner has distributed more than $16 million.


2012 Black Tie beneficiaries

AIDS Arms Inc.
AIDS Interfaith Network
AIDS Outreach Center
AIDS Services of Dallas
Celebration Community Church
Congregation Beth El Binah
Equality Texas Foundation
Health Services of North Texas
Home for the Holidays
Lambda Legal Defense/Education Fund
Legacy Counseling Center
Legal Hospice of Texas
Northaven United Methodist Church
Resource Center Dallas
Tarrant County Samaritan House
Women’s Chorus of Dallas
Turtle Creek Chorale
White Rock Friends
Human Rights Campaign Foundation

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 6, 2012.