Gary Virginia and Donna Sachet are two of Positive Resource Center’s most visible supporters. Both have served on the PRC Board of Directors and currently sit on the Advisory Board. Gary and Donna recently sat down with us to discuss their long-standing relationship with PRC.
A Fundraisers’ Genesis
Gary Virginia’s dedication to PRC is rooted in his own experience with the organization’s services. Gary first tested positive for HIV in 1989 and by the end of 1995, he found himself too sick to work. Like so many others in our community, Gary came to PRC in need of assistance to obtain disability benefits.
”It felt like it was the end of the world,” remembers Gary. “I turned to Positive Resource Center (then known as AIDS Benefits Counselors). I still remember the feeling after meeting with my attorney in their cramped offices, which were on Castro Street back then—like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. He was an angel. I thought, ‘How is this possible that an amazing service like this exists for free?’”
When Gary’s health stabilized, he started feeling restless. He had been working since he was twelve-years-old, and being unemployed made him feel like he had no sense of purpose. To remedy this, some friends convinced him to run for Mr. Daddy’s Leather and, much to his surprise, he won. With that title under his belt, he started preparing for the competitive Mr. SF Leather title. “To make headway in the competition,” he says, “I threw my first fundraising event, a benefit for PRC and AEF, both of which were critical for my survival.” With this event, he began his amazing journey to becoming one of our community’s great fundraisers.
At the same time Gary was serving as Mr. SF Leather 1996, the Imperial Court had elected Donna Sachet as its Empress. They both worked for all the community fundraising events and saw each other a lot. Gary says, “We were both so busy then! My house was basically like Superman’s telephone booth—I’d come home to change clothes and be out the door again. Donna and I earned our stripes during what I hope was the worst of the AIDS crisis. It was truly an emergency.”
“There are so many heroes from that time,” Donna adds. “We started our work right at the transition, when AIDS went from meaning certain death to the possibility of survival, and PRC was an important part of helping people cope with that.”
Shortly after winning Mr. SF Leather, Gary was asked to join the board of PRC and Donna soon followed. “When Gary asked me to join the board with him,” she says, “I took a leap of faith and did it, especially knowing how closely our personal values were aligned.”
Both have remained stalwart supporters. When asked why she has remained committed to PRC over the years, Donna says, “I support causes that are personal to me, and PRC is just that. The work they do affects my friends, my health, my city. It’s also important to me that an organization keep the overhead low. I care strongly that as much of the money raised goes to the work and the clients.” In 2010, 78% of PRC’s expenses went directly to client services.
A Signature Event
“PRC’s services were vital to my survival,” Gary says. “I vowed always to give back, so that PRC is there for the next person that needs them.”
And give back they have! Each June on Pink Saturday, for the last 15 years, Donna and Gary have hosted Pride Brunch, as a benefit for PRC.
PRC Board President, Kent Roger, says of Pride Brunch, “I have been so impressed by Pride Brunch every time I’ve attended. The event is the very definition of a community celebration and speaks so much to Donna and Gary’s commitment to PRC and to the city’s LGBT community as a whole.”
Donna recalls, “Just as every organization looks for a signature event, we wanted to create one for ourselves. One night, we were sitting around at the Edge Bar, looking at the calendar for Pride Weekend, and we saw that while there was party after party in the evening, there were no brunch events during the whole weekend.”
They enlisted the support of their friends Chef Rusty Gaspard and Catering and Events Director Billy Roberts of the famous Stars restaurant in Civic Center for the first Pride Brunch in 1999. From there things developed quickly, and the event became a space for the community to interact with the Pride Parade’s Grand Marshals and to support Positive Resource Center.
“My first thought was, ‘Wait, another thing to do during Pride Weekend?’” says Donna. “But like all events, this was an investment. When we first started Pride Brunch, it was more of a fun party, rather than an important fundraiser. Gradually, with sponsorship packages and corporate support from places like Sterling Bank, The Edge, Daddy’s (now 440 Castro), Marlena’s, and Community Thrift Store, Pride Brunch began to provide significant unrestricted income for PRC.”
2011 proved a banner year when Wells Fargo joined Pride Brunch as its Presenting Sponsor, basically covering the fixed expenses of the hotel, so that all additional sponsorships and individual ticket purchases could go directly to PRC services. From there, each Pride Brunch has grown in size and profitability, last year raising over $42,000!
Gary interjects, “I think it was always more than just a party! As we planned the first brunch, we immediately thought of it as way to support PRC.” But the party aspect remains high, as over 300 people representing a wide spectrum of SF’s LGBT Community come together to celebrate, remember, and look forward.
Donna and Gary have remained deeply committed to PRC for more than 15 years. Even after stepping down from the Board of Directors, they still wanted to help. Donna says, “The Advisory Board’s formation was initially our idea. We wanted our passion for the agency to have an outlet.”
They say that their continued role with PRC as Advisory Board members remains extremely important. “Organizations like PRC need the grassroots, to stay connected to their constituency, and we’re able to help with that,” says Gary. “As a former client, I’m in a strong position to advocate for PRC. The staff at PRC is passionate about justice for their clients, but they are stretched to the limit and can’t reach everyone in the community. Donna and I can be there to speak on PRC’s behalf.”
They both feel that PRC remains extremely relevant to the community, even with the shifts in the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. Donna reminds us, “I don’t think the need for PRC’s services has gone away. There are still people up against the wall, in difficult situations, who need help. Even though things have changed tremendously since those early years, there are still people coming to PRC feeling like it’s the end of the world, like their life is over. And the staff is there to tell them that there are systems out there to support them, that they’re entitled to these benefits.”
This year’s 16th annual Pride Brunch on Saturday, June 28, promises to continue the tradition of fun and fundraising at Hotel Whitcomb from 11am–2pm with returning supporters like Dixieland Dykes + 3 providing live music, Barefoot Winery serving bubbly, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka offering cocktails. Come enjoy a fabulous gourmet brunch buffet, hear candid remarks from each attending Grand Marshal, help us raise money for PRC, and celebrate Pride with your friends.