Building a more vibrant community for all at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs

John McDonald & Rob Wright receive a standing ovation for their incredible gift at the 2016 Center Stage fundraiser in Palm Springs California (David A. Lee Photography)

An unspoken theme came through loud and clear at the 7th Annual Center Stage event, benefiting the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, on Friday, October 28 at the Riviera Palm Springs: Building A More Vibrant Community for All. This was an evening for gratitude, thanks, and continued outreach as The Center celebrates its new home at 1301 N. Palm Canyon, made possible by a generous gift from John McDonald and Rob Wright, that helps to create so many opportunities for The Center to serve the Palm Springs community.

Marty Massiello, chief operating officer of presenting sponsor Eisenhower Medical Center, welcomed the crowd of 750 and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to partner with The Center in bringing health and wellness programming to the community. A recent major gift from Kevin Blessing, honoring his late husband, established The Scott Hines Mental Health Clinic under the direction of Dr. Jill Gover and strengthens The Center as an important community resource for counseling and support.

Returning as emcee for the third consecutive year was the quick witted Kate Clinton who made the crowd groan in disappointment when she said, “This will be the last year of Center Stage …” until she quickly added “… without a female president of the United States!” She wasted no time in proudly saying that our next president will share her last name and that we really don’t need a “Commander in Cheeto” but someone more dedicated to advancing the issues of fair and equal treatment for all.

A new video, produced by Trick Dog Films, illustrated the message from clients, staff, donors, and volunteers that “Love Is …“ what The Center is all about, in creating this more vibrant community for all to share. After dinner, chief executive officer Mike Thompson told the crowd how lucky he feels every day to see, in action, the investment each supporter makes in the lives of The Center’s clients. Its life-saving programs like the Community Food Bank, as well as educational and social activities that help fight stigma and isolation, bring hope to those who often feel they live on the margins of society because of their socio-economic status, their sexuality, or a variety of other reasons.

Paulina Angel, executive director of the Trans Community Project, spoke from personal experience of how The Center’s people and programs embraced her, pulling her back from the edge when she felt abandoned and without a support system. Palm Springs city council member and National Center for Lesbian Rights government policy director Geoff Kors told the story of his own coming-out and how lucky he felt to have the love of parents who supported his activism around civil rights for LGBT people and all others.

For a bit of fun, the screen flashed two pictures of Thompson — recently clean-shaven and an earlier mustachioed version — as Kors encouraged the crowd to include #nostache or #stache when texting their donations in support of The Center. Donors applauded and got even busier when they learned that the Western Wind Foundation would make a gift of $25,000 if giving from the crowd reached $75,000. It did — and the evening was deemed a huge success when it raised more than $125,000.

Board chair Brian Rix added his thanks to all present, saying that the 2016 honors go to the more than 500 donors who made the “WE ARE THE CENTER” capital campaign so successful. It was essential in helping raise the $3.5 million necessary to secure and renovate its new home where a more vibrant community is built on a daily basis.

Demonstrating that lesbians can also have an appreciation for a sexy man, Clinton returned to introduce Steve Grand, the openly-gay singer-songwriter who created an online storm by releasing his “All American Boy” video in July 2013. As he sat down to the piano, everyone understood why his YouTube videos now boast more than 13 million views.

Those who weren’t ready to stop the fun stepped across to the after-party for dancing to tunes spun by DJ Baz. Seen in the crowd were Eisenhower Medical Center CEO Aubrey Serfling and wife Lori Serfling; Harold Matzner; Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon and husband Bob Hammack, as well as city council members Ginny Foat and JR Roberts; Bill Nicholson; Nelda Linsk; Desert Regional Medical Center CEO Carolyn Caldwell and husband Daniel Caldwell; James Williamson; and Peggy Cravens.

Included in the more than 40 event sponsors were David Hood and George Sellers, Southern California Edison, Frontiers Communications, Larry Sernel and Larry Falconio, McCormack+Kristel, Mary Sue and Shelby Allen, and Grace Helen Spearman Charitable Foundation.

Everyone is invited to join in the Grand Opening and Building Dedication of the new LGBT Community Center of the Desert in the McDonald/Wright Building at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive on Sunday, November 13 from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM. For more details, visit thecenterps.org.

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