In many ways, I almost cannot believe that BC/EFA – in one form or another, one way or another – has been raising funds for over 12 years. And that, since those very first days of stitched-together efforts, we have raised over $50 million! It’s true. $50 million! And I remember how thrilled we were to come up with a profit of $350 from the first CATS bake sale!
Certainly, much has changed from those earliest days when a small group of producers and actors wondered at the same time, “What can we do?” People were very frightened then. AIDS was a horrible secret. There were few services and little support. Many died alone and ashamed, their friends and families helpless.
Thankfully – for many – that has changed. The generosity of the theatre community has created a network of support – indeed, a safety net of care – that extends now not only to people with AIDS, but also to women, the homeless and the under-insured in our business and in communities across the country. Naturally, we’re tired. How many posters can be signed in a lifetime? Does anyone on the “outside” understand how much effort and how much extra time goes into the weeks of audience appeals? Oh my God, the fourteenth Flea Market?! I understand the fatigue. But I also appreciate beyond measure your efforts and the generous, creative, repeated and unique contributions – large and small; of time, talent and dollars – that have brought BC/EFA to where it is today.
Recently, one of the AIDS service organizations we assist in South Africa (in honor of our South African friends in The Lion King) sent me a card with this short story that I’d like to share with you:
“While walking along a beach, a man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it in the ocean. As he came closer, he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the water, the starfish were dying. He observed this man picking up the starfish, one by one, and throwing them back in the water.
Now, after watching this seemingly futile effort, the observer said, ‘There are thousands of starfish on this beach. It would be impossible for you to get to all of them. There are too many. It is too much. You can’t possibly save enough to make a difference.’ The young man (or woman) smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and toss it back into the ocean.
‘It made a difference to that one,’ he replied.”
I love this story because it speaks to the heart of BC/EFA and because there is still so much to do. AIDS isn’t over for us here in the States. If you don’t believe me, come sit in on our next grants committee meeting, or go over the increasing requests for assistance at The Actors’ Fund.
But, at the same time, how can we ignore others in distress? How can we pretend that it has to be all about or only about AIDS? I don’t think we can, not if we hope to continue raising funds at our current level and in today’s marketplace. In fact, I think we must – particularly around the financial support we provide to The Actors’ Fund – reach out in our embrace.
At the same time, I know we can never be all things to all people. Someone is always going to feel overlooked. Others will be certain that, since there will never be enough – do less, make the guidelines tighter, pull the net smaller. No. I think we must reasonably continue to do what we can for those whose paths cross ours. And – if this record of our twelfth year is any indication – we can also expect that much will work out better than anyone ever anticipated.
Naïve, you think. Well, I repeat, we can never be all things to all people. But I am brought back to the story of the starfish.
“It made a difference to that one.” That person living with AIDS; that woman who felt her issues were being ignored; that person who went back to school or the one who got out of the dangerous SRO, as well as that person who kept avoiding the doctor because he wasn’t insured, but finally made an appointment. It made a difference to those scores of food banks, emergency assistance programs and children’s initiatives or harm reduction services to whom a $5,000 grant, twice a year, matters. It made a difference to those 20 abandoned kids we got to know in Johannesburg, South Africa, who now, with our help, have a safer, more secure place to live.
I hope that you take pride, as I do, in all that has been accomplished this year and over the last decade or so. I also trust that you will be willing to continue with us in these efforts, particularly now when more people than ever – or that one person somewhere – is depending on you.
With appreciation and affection,