Golden Rainbow Rallies for HIV/AIDS Survivors
as told to joanna haugen
“I started dancing when I was three, and I always knew I wanted to be a dancer. I loved it.
I grew up in Las Vegas and went to a studio called Rainbow School of Dance. When I was 11 or 12 years old, we got a new dance teacher, and I remember him so fondly because he was the one who put us on pointe. He took another girl and me to Los Angeles to experience the bigger world of dance with people who were older than us and who had these awesome instructors, so we could see what was beyond our little studio. I was at our dance studio five days a week and all day on Saturdays, and that trip really elevated my interest to the next level.
My dance teacher was a really caring person. He taught us so much about discipline and character and was so full of life. And he just loved, loved, loved us kids.
I was 16 when he passed away. He was probably in his late 20s, so young. He got pneumonia and passed away so quickly, and we heard through the parents that he had been HIV positive. I couldn’t believe he was gone after all those years together. At the viewing, all of the kids were there, the really young kids lined up next to him, doing ballet in his honor. That was my introduction to HIV.
When I attended high school at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, Golden Rainbow rehearsed its big fundraiser, Ribbon of Life, in the school’s large theater, so I’ve been familiar with the organization since I was a teenager. I continued dancing after my teacher’s death, of course, and went on to dance in Jubilee! at Bally’s for about three years. While I was in Jubilee! I volunteered at fundraisers supporting Golden Rainbow by dressing up as a showgirl and selling raffle tickets. I began working as an assistant to the director at Golden Rainbow in 2005. There is a circle of life between Golden Rainbow and entertainers, since the organization has its roots in the industry. It started when a bunch of entertainers decided to put on a show to raise money for supportive services for people living with HIV/ AIDS, after an entertainer here in Las Vegas died. His family was so scared of his disease they made him live in the garage, and he ended up dying there, alone.
Golden Rainbow is a referral-based agency, and we’ve always considered ourselves to be the safety net for the HIV/AIDS community. I’ve been the executive director for close to five years now. We want to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks, so we’re always working with other organizations. We’ve made a lot of big changes in the last five years to make sure people don’t forget about HIV/AIDS. Its identity is disappearing because so many people think you can just take a pill and everything is fine, so we make sure we’re out in the community talking about why it is still so important. I’m really proud of that.
The biggest problem we see is the lack of affordable housing. For 25 years our mission has been to provide financial assistance for housing to low-income individuals. We have our own housing, too—eight apartments, a three-bedroom home, and a two-bedroom townhouse—and we have approximately 25 tenants living in those units each month.
Golden Rainbow is partly funded through some foundation grants, but we rely on our creative fundraising efforts as well. In all, we raised more than $210,000 this past year. This season we are partnering with the Miracle Mile Shops to collect Christmas and holiday decorations in a holiday drive for our tenants through December 7. There are other organizations in the Valley that do toy donations, which is awesome, but we wanted to do something totally different. For people who are already on a low income, the idea of going out and spending money on ancillary things like lights and decorations is not at the top of their list. So we want to bring them the holiday spirit. We get hot chocolate and Santa hats, the whole thing.” To participate in Golden Rainbow’s holiday decoration drive, or otherwise get involved, visit goldenrainbow.org
photography by ryan reason (carrasco-zanini); lori tingey (ribbon of life, cake, dancer)