For the past two decades, the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation (R.E.A.F.) has held a benefit concert for AIDS service organizations in the Bay Area. On Sunday, August 24, it will do so once again, presenting its 20th annual Help Is On the Way Gala at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and the Nob Hill Gazette is a sponsor.
“We’ve always held some sort of variety show—some years it would be a composer theme, such as Cole Porter music or a Gershwin evening, but we ran out of famous composers that people are familiar with—so, we’ve decided on a more general Broadway theme,” says Ken Henderson, R.E.A.F.’s executive director. “We get a lot of people returning to perform, and we also invite new people to keep things fresh.”
R.E.A.F. is a non-profit organization originally founded by two caring moms—Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet—who both tragically lost their only sons to AIDS. The wholly volunteer-run agency was established as a way to honor their sons’ memories and help alleviate the suffering of all the other sons and daughters living with HIV and AIDS.
“When it started, we were looking to help people die with dignity and give closure and support to the agencies that are helping people through their end of life,” Henderson says. “Today, the goal is really about helping people live with hope; our message is different.”
The star-studded performance will include cast members from the hit Broadway show, Motown the Musical, as well as stars of stage, screen, and television.
“We’re bringing in a lot of stars in this big Broadway-style concert, and it’ll be sandwiched between two big gala receptions—a VIP reception to coincide with our silent auction at 5 p.m., and a broader reception at 6 p.m. with a dozen restaurants supplying food tastings and drinks,” Henderson continues. “After the show, there will be a cast dessert party, and they will come out and mingle with the attendees.”
Vocalist Meg Mackay, a popular member of the San Francisco Bay Area’s performing arts scene, will sing It’s Today from Mame at the fundraiser. This will be her 14th year participating in the event, and she chose the Jerry Herman song, as it is a favorite of Barbara Richmond’s.
“The Richmond Ermet Foundation has grown to be a big provider of charity support in the city because of hard work and devotion. It has a very human face and heart,” Mackay says. “I knew John and Barbara long before John’s passing and was asked by Barbara to participate in a charity concert honoring him, which evolved into Help Is On the Way. Their love was and is instantly felt.”
She says, “Being involved with R.E.A.F. is a lesson in the power of selflessly giving your voice and art to a cause—the payback is more than rewarding. I am always so proud to be there among others who feel the same way. There are so many wonderful people that are in my life because of this yearly event.”
Dancer Jeffrey Scott Parsons will be performing a tribute to Fred Astaire with fellow Broadway thespian David Engel. Parson says, “The important thing to remember in the fight against HIV/AIDS, is that we already know how to win. This disease doesn’t have to exist. It’s through these events that we can take care of those bravely living with the disease and educate those that aren’t.”
The cause is very close to home for The X Factor fan-favorite Jason Brock, who has been participating for the last few years. “This is so important because people are still suffering from HIV/AIDS—people I know very well (even a family member of mine). Until we find a cure we need to keep raising money to help those affected by this disease,” he says. “I always look forward to seeing the wonderful people in attendance and the stars at this event.”
Others set to take the stage include stage and screen star Lucie Arnaz, Thorn Birds star Richard Chamberlain, The Brady Bunch’s Florence Henderson, and Alex Newell from Glee. Says Ken Henderson, “I am looking forward to participating in the R.E.A.F. fundraising event; I have been raising money for AIDS organizations for many years. I will be singing, When You’re Good to Mamma, with some wonderful dancers.”
“The biggest message we try to get out to people is that AIDS is still not over.” Henderson says. “More people are living with HIV and AIDS and depending on the services of local agencies than ever before.”
Keith Loria is a freelance writer who has written about everything, from baseball to corporate mergers, to healthcare and entertainment. Recent interviews include actor William Shatner, heart-surgeon pioneer Marc Dedomenico, and Pez Candy CEO Joe Vitttoria. Keith is also a family man with two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.