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The phrase ”Charity begins at home” is open to some interpretation. Local musician Sharon Dawson is living one possible interpretation, with her newly-released discount card to benefit Whitman-Walker Clinic of Northern Virginia, the Mautner Project and, to a lesser degree, her own 9/11 commemorative, non-profit music label, Habakkuk2vs3 — a name taken from her favorite childhood Bible verse, Habakkuk, Chapter 2, Verse 3.
Simply put, Dawson has recruited roughly two dozen, primarily Northern Virginia businesses to offer various discounts to holders of her new $10 card, with proceeds going largely to WWC/NOVA and Mautner.
”I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for about 20 years,” says Dawson, a lesbian who originally hails from West Virginia. ”It’s pretty much what I call home. This is pretty much where I’ve spent most of my life. I like the opportunity here. I love that the gay community is so diverse. There is social life here. What’s not to like?”
The idea of giving some back to the community was sparked by a visit back home to West Virginia this summer, Dawson recounts. There, in her hometown of Keyser, she spotted a similar card promotion at a local restaurant. Coincidentally, Dawson’s niece and her niece’s husband were in charge of that card campaign, benefiting a youth center in that locale.
”I bought that card in my hometown in June,” says Dawson. ”In July, I got to thinking about it. At the time, Whitman-Walker’s financial troubles were in the news.”
That was enough to get the ball rolling. From there, Dawson got contact information for the Georgia-based company that printed the cards for her niece. The next step was to find businesses willing to be included in the campaign.
”I made two or three trips around the Beltway. But it focuses on the Arlington-Falls Church area, because that’s where WWC/NOVA is,” says Dawson. ”Each restaurant designed its own discount. There wasn’t much hesitation. It doesn’t cost them anything, and it’s free advertising.”
Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant, a gay venue in Arlington, agrees. ”I really don’t have a lot to lose,” he explains. ”It didn’t cost us anything. And hopefully it will help Whitman-Walker Clinic.”
Obviously, Joseph Santone, director of WWC/NOVA says he also hopes Dawson’s project will be successful, adding that any funds donated to the clinic from sales of Dawson’s card will go toward the Northern Virginia regional center.
”She’s pulled this thing together on her own,” Santone observes. ”I don’t think we’ve ever done a card like this. It’s a great idea. She’s very enthusiastic. She seems very excited about the project.”
Santone will get no argument from Dawson. While she says that staff at both the D.C.-based Mautner Project national lesbian health center and WWC/NOVA, established in 1988 to better the health of members of the GLBT community and HIV-positive people of all sexual orientations, helped fine tune the card, there is no doubting this is Dawson’s baby.
”I’ve always felt that you get what you give,” says Dawson. ”It’s not so much what you have in your wallet, but what you have in your heart. In my eyes, helping a person I’ve never met is the same as helping a person who’s no longer here. I’ve always had a soft spot for helping people. I was raised that way. I was a youth minister. I’d gone to seminary. I know God is opening a lot of doors. If he can use me and use this card, that’s good.”
With the card’s release early this month, it’s still too early for Dawson to gauge just how much good it will do. She says she is hopeful, and that she managed to sell 40 cards in one evening at Freddie’s. Currently, Dawson offers the card via the Web for a $2 fee. The card is available for the $10 face value at six Northern Virginia outlets: Argia’s Restaurant, Mango Mike’s, St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, Shiro Japanese Steak & Seafood Restaurant, SoBe Seafood Co. and Sundae Times Inc. As currently available, the card is valid through 2006, but whether another card will follow remains to be seen.
”I’m just taking it one step at a time,” says Dawson. ”What I’m investing is my time and funds to advertise. The preliminary part is paying for the card. I don’t know how much it can raise, but if the concept is grasped, it can multiply into something huge. I’m just one person, but one person can make a big difference.”
For a complete list of Discount Card participants or to purchase, go to www.gaydc.net/thecard/. For more information, call 703-215-2150.
CORRECTION: In the Oct. 27 article, ”Dawson’s Discount,” Habakkuk2vs3, Inc. was described as Sharon Dawson’s non-profit record label. Rather, it is legally a ”not-for-profit” entity. Further, it is not Dawson’s record label, but the organization responsible for distributing her memorial CD honoring the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.