In October, 1982, the four founders of APLA -- Nancy Cole Sawaya, Matt Redman, Ervin Munro and Max Drew -- were among those who attended an emergency meeting at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. They listened to a representative from San Francisco's Kaposis Sarcoma Foundation talk about GRID, or Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (one of the early names for AIDS).
Fears about the new disease were spreading rapidly, so they decided to set up a telephone hotline to answer questions. They gathered whatever information was available and began hotline trainings later in October, with twelve volunteers in the initial group. The first hotline office was literally a closet in the community center, where volunteers answered a single telephone and read information from a one-page fact sheet.
Realizing that funds were needed to educate the community and prevent the spread of the disease, Nancy, Matt and Max enlisted the help of other friends (who became many of APLA's early volunteers) and held a Christmas benefit. The party raised more than $7000, which was the seed money for a new organization.
Shortly afterwards, a steering committee was elected. Recognizing that AIDS was not just a gay disease, the founders decided to name the organization AIDS Project Los Angeles. The first Board of Directors was elected on January 14, 1983.
Soon APLA moved into its first office, on Cole Avenue in Hollywood.
APLA's first client service started when early volunteers began visiting patients at their hospital beds. Support groups were also organized to help people with AIDS and their loved ones.
When a professional social worker joined the small APLA staff in late 1983, client services became fully established. One of its earliest programs was "Home Health Assistance/Hospice Services," which later changed its name and became well-known as the Buddy Program. To this day, the Buddy Program trains volunteers who provide one-on-one social interaction and emotional support to persons living with AIDS.
APLA created new programs during the ensuing years to meet the growing needs of people with AIDS. The first program to address housing needs was Mansfield House, a three-bedroom home in Hollywood that opened in 1984, and has since been superseded by an entire housing program. In March, 1985, a dental clinic was founded to treat people with AIDS who were denied services by other dentists.
An early food voucher program evolved into the Necessities of Life Program (NOLP). This groceries-distribution center officially opened its doors on November 1, 1986. NOLP has since provided over one million bags of groceries to APLA clients. In addition, it now helps other food pantries for people with AIDS by giving them groceries, technical assistance and financial support.
Other groundbreaking programs included medical transportation, home health care, and counseling on mental health, legal, insurance and public benefits issues. These were later joined by case management, chemical dependency counseling and treatment education.
Supporting all of APLA's programs are highly dedicated staff members, extremely committed board members, and remarkably generous donors. Instrumental to the success of APLA's programs are thousands of incredibly devoted and caring volunteers who give enormous amounts of time and effort -- as well as heart and soul -- to the organization and the clients it serves. During APLA's first ten years, volunteers contributed nearly one million hours of service.
One of APLA's first acts was to produce and distribute a brochure about AIDS. The February, 1983 brochure, printed in both English and Spanish, answered basic questions about the disease. APLA has educated the community ever since to prevent new cases of HIV infection and to empower and improve the quality of life for people who are already infected.
APLA's first major educational campaign was launched in 1985. The now-famous "LA Cares" ads were produced in conjunction with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. They featured a sweet and motherly character who taught her "boys" about safer sex. The campaign consisted of billboards, public service announcements and print advertising, and also included graphic safer sex guides for gay men titled "Can We Talk?" and "Mother's Handy Sex Guide." For a wider audience, APLA and the Center ran a "Southern California Cares" campaign, with the theme "Fight the Fear With the Facts."
APLA's educational publications have included "Living With AIDS: A Self-Care Manual," which was first published in 1985 and is regularly updated; "Sex on Earth and Other Planets," a 1992 comic book about AIDS written by teenagers, for teenagers; and numerous brochures, fact sheets, and safer sex kits. Many of these materials were produced in both English and Spanish.
Other education programs include the Speaker's Bureau, the HIV Testing Outreach Program, "Saber Es Poder" (Knowledge Is Power) Spanish-language workshops for Latino adolescents, AIDS in the Workplace seminars, "Speaking of Sex" negotiation-skills workshops, condom-distribution efforts and community education forums.
For over a decade, APLA has been at the forefront of increasing AIDS awareness and fostering prevention efforts.
From the earliest years, APLA took an aggressive and far-sighted approach to public policy, recognizing that advocacy at all governmental levels is vital to protecting the rights of people impacted by AIDS and to increasing funds for care and research. In August, 1985, APLA coordinated testimony before the Los Angeles City Council on discrimination against people with AIDS, and Los Angeles became the first city in the nation to bar such discrimination.
When the need for a stronger voice on AIDS issues at the national level became apparent, APLA helped to support a number of new national organizations. APLA also played a leadership role in the creation of the Washington-based AIDS lobby now known as the AIDS Action Council, and remains one of the staunchest supporters of that organization.
In 1986, APLA established a Government Affairs Department (later named the Public Policy Department). Its goals were to increase state and local resources for AIDS prevention, education and care, as well as to promote fair and humane AIDS legislation.
In 1990, APLA's policy efforts expanded with the creation of the AIDS Project Advocacy Services unit in Sacramento. APLA's representatives in the state capital work with coalitions of AIDS, health, and gay and lesbian organizations. Together they fight for the rights of all Californians affected by HIV, lobby for prevention education and health-care funding, and enact model legislation.
The Government Affairs Department continues to face the challenge of influencing legislators and government policymakers. It also sponsors two grass-roots efforts: the Neighborhood Network, which arranges meetings between elected representatives and people affected by AIDS, and the Citizens Network, which writes letters or sends telegrams to government officials on breaking issues.
Many early fundraising events were held in gay bars and discos, as the gay and lesbian community courageously mobilized to fight the disease. A fundraiser at Studio One in March, 1984, featuring Joan Rivers, raised $45,000 for APLA, Shanti and Aid for AIDS.
APLA held the world's first AIDS Walk on July 28, 1985. Organizers of AIDS Walk Los Angeles hoped to raise $100,000. But a human tide of 4,500 walkers rolled forward from the starting point at Paramount Studios, bringing in $673,000. The Walk is now an annual ritual in Los Angeles, with the 1992 Walk bringing in more than $3 million from 25,000 walkers.
After Rock Hudson disclosed that he had AIDS, Elizabeth Taylor helped to spearhead a drive by the entertainment community to confront the disease. By lending her support to APLA, Taylor helped ensure the success of the first Commitment to Life event. The fundraiser, held at the Bonaventure Hotel and honoring former First Lady Betty Ford, raised $1.3 million. The Commitment to Life benefits, much like the AIDS Walks, have become major annual events. "A Ten-Year Commitment to Life" in 1997, which honored Rosie O'Donnell, Joe Roth, Jim Carey and Ron Burkle, raised over $3.2 million.
The first annual AIDS Dance-a-Thon was held in 1989 at the Shrine Auditorium Exposition Hall. By 1991 the event outgrew that venue and was moved to the LA Sports Arena. APLA proudly donates a portion of each year's Dance-a-Thon revenues to other AIDS organizations in Los Angeles.
Creative and determined volunteers have been responsible for setting up dozens of fundraising events, from the small to the enormous, from the elegant to the unusual -- including premiere screenings, theater benefits, art openings, photography exhibits, fashion events and special concerts.
APLA has also been the beneficiary of grants from city, county and state agencies; gifts of money and in-kind services from businesses and corporations; grants from foundations; and generous contributions from a multitude of individual donors.
Many of the most generous donors are people who are highly familiar with the organization -- APLA's volunteers, as well as members of the Board of Directors and Embassador Council. Board members are themselves volunteers who contribute extraordinary quantities of energy and enthusiasm in leading the organization, setting policy and planning for the future.