Thanks to the support of The Durst Organization, the Lobby gallery at the Conde Nast building in Times Square was the setting for an unusual art exhibition to benefit the South Bronx based Health People which works with women and children affected by the AIDS epidemic. Health People has won world wide acclaim for its woman to woman and teen mentoring programs for families dealing with AIDS, cancer and other inner city killers. Indeed, founder Chris Norwood was one of the 100 Women of Peace nominated for an unprecedented Nobel Peace Prize last year. The exhibition culminated with a live auction and an awards ceremony honoring among others famed landscape painter
Norwood believed the idea for the theme would help bring attention to the staggering number of AIDS orphans, particularly in the inner cities, who receive no federal, state or city support. “America has the most AIDS in the Western world but you’d hardly know. As Madonna and Angelina Jolie comb the world for orphans, American children who have lost parents seem to have no celebrity champions. None of the big foundations from the Clinton Foundation to the Gates Foundation to Bono’s Red Campaign give any assistance to American AIDS orphans. Not one dime”, she said at the gala.
“See the Children through the Trees” focused on the theme of trees and presented an intriguing range of work that conjures the many meanings---and absorbing images of nature. The idea is to see the children - some 53,000 orphaned by AIDS in New York - which the government has left behind.
Works ranged from Gornik’s “The Woods” to Ross Bleckner’s abstracted leaves in “Early Every Morning”; from Milton Glaser’s blazing “Red Tree” to an original signed panel from Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury (which takes a sterner view toward trees) to Walter Channing’s 8 foot sculpture in which a natural tree trunk seems to “whirl” to the sky.
Other prominent artists participating included: Edwina Sandys, Jean Holabird, Steve Miller, Larry B. Wright, Michael Knigin, Cuca Romley, Joan Kraisky, Steve Maciw, Neke Carson, Christophe von Hohenberg, Suzanne Anker, Nick Patten, David Prentice, Michelle D’Oyley, Elizabeth Meyer, Cheryl Warwick, Susan Shatter, Steve Hudak, Alan Turner, Susan Hall, Bill Ciccariello, Matthew Hamblem, Carolina von Humboldt and Charles Yoder.
Norwood even came up with a creative way for her non-artists pals to participate. Also auctioned were unique celebrity “leaf” autographs from John Updike, Dolly Parton, Michael Bloomberg, Lauren Bacall, Carl Bernstein and other famed individuals.
PBS NOW’s Maria Hinojosa emceed the evening. Television and theater producer Donny Epstein deftly handled the auction duties. Epstein even bid on several pictures – twice bidding against himself to raise the price! Guess the box office at his latest Broadway hit “Oleanna” has him flush. Throughout the evening Benefit Chair Larry B. Wright kept the event running smoothly while guests feasted on a lovely buffet from Saju Bistro that included luscious oysters, pissaladiere, plump shrimp tempura and a host of other goodies thanks to the generous Durst Family one of the country’s biggest and most philanthropic real estate families.
The exhibition culminated with an awards ceremony honoring April Gornik with Health People’s first Leadership in Art and Civic Society Award. "Health People's original impetus was to make sure that children whose families have been afflicted or even lost to HIV/AIDS have a deeply committed society there to help" said Gornik. She continues, "With more and more American children becoming parentless, Health People abundantly deserves my and others' support to go forward with an unique mentoring program, in which kids learn to help other kids, and that is proven to really help children in these difficult circumstances
Also honored were Julia Gruen, Executive Director of the Keith Haring Foundation which has been a terrific supporter of Norwood’s works in keeping with Keith’s final wishes that his estate support organizations that help children and those affected by AIDS.
Ed Martin, the Director of International Insights at the Hershey Company and Director of Pause to Support a Cause was honored as well. Martin a marketing and branding specialist has been working with not-for-profits such as Health People to help them acquire funds by participating in marketing programs. Pause to Support a Cause, an innovative new business philanthropy initiative, involving major corporations around the world, which links charities and nonprofits to the $18.9 billion market research industry.
The final honoree, a very special one to Norwood and her team of volunteers, was Tomas Rivera. A graduate of Health People's Kids-Helping-Kids Mentoring Program received the Youth Leadership Award. Tomas recently returned from being stationed with the US Army in Iraq and is now a pre-med student planning to help his community in the way he was helped by Health People.
Founded in 1990 by Norwood, the organization began as a women's HIV/AIDS peer education program teaching women most affected by the epidemic to become leaders in fighting the disease. Men soon asked to join Health People and urged by sick and dying parents to help their children Health People developed the groundbreaking Kids-Helping-Kids Mentoring Program which trains older teens with sick or missing parents to be mentors for younger children in the same difficult situations.
Braving the downpours to congratulate and lend their support were Jean Shafiroff, Katherine and Gary Andreassen, Christopher Arnold, Neke Carson, Rachael Howard, Michael Goodhope, Aaron Coe, Thalia Thelen, Jean Holabird, Steve Fox, Shari Novick, Jacqueline McLoughlin, Charles Yoder, Dr. Reid Stribey and Rhonda Liss, Dr. Hal Strelnick, John Norwood, Irish Rose Peffer, Edwina Sandys, Walter Channing and scores more.