Community Growth

Brother Help Thyself awards grants to 32 local organizations, focuses on smaller groups

Gigi Thomas is on call 24 hours a day.

The transgender client advocate and hotline supervisor for Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), in Adams Morgan, has no idea where she will be when a sex worker might call her seeking help or information, such as directions to the nearest shelter or hospital.

On a late Thursday night for instance, Thomas can be found on the streets of Washington looking for prostitutes who want help. And thanks to Brother Help Thyself (BHT), Thomas can still take calls and answer questions when she’s out on the streets.

That’s because two years ago, BHT provided HIPS with enough funding to buy seven Palm Pilots for its outreach van, so that staff members and volunteers can access information via the Internet from anywhere.

”[Brother Help Thyself's] money has been so much help to HIPS because we’re using it for stuff that we need and are lacking,” says Thomas.

Last year, HIPS, which includes two part-time staff members and four full-time workers, including Thomas, used a $9,000 grant from BHT to upgrade their phone systems to include voicemail, phone extensions and call-transfer capabilities.

HIPS is just one of 32 GLBT and HIV/AIDS related organizations in metropolitan Washington and Baltimore that received grants on Saturday, Jan. 27, during BHT’s 29th annual Grant Awards Reception at Baltimore’s Hippo Nightclub.

BHT pays particular attention to the needs of smaller organizations.

”It’s the smaller groups with a defined focus that are doing the best job filling in the gaps of the social infrastructure of our community,” says Scott Billings, Vice President of BHT.

HIPS was among the top beneficiaries this year, receiving $9,620. The Carl Vogel Center, which offers HIV/AIDS services with a multi-disciplinary approach, received the largest grant in the amount of $11,055.

Billings lauded the clinic for providing accessible HIV/AIDS services to the community.

”You can walk in there, spur of the moment, and get an HIV test,” he says.

Carl Vogel Center Executive Director Ron Mealy expressed gratitude for the grant, which comes at a significant growth period.

”We’re in the process of experiencing tremendous growth,” he says. ”The organization last year provided services to 898…clients, and in May of last year, we transitioned our primary care clinic from part-time status to full-time status.”

That expansion symbolizes the main purpose of the BHT grant, Billings says.

”Our focus is not the big organizations. We focus on building smaller organizations, helping them get established, once they get a revenue of more than $2 million, they’re no longer eligible [for a BHT grant].”

BHT’s target issues include drug abuse. Brother Help Thyself granted the Center – Home for GLBT in Metro DC, $1,305 for its D.C. Crystal Meth Working Group.

BHT also gave $2,840 to Wanda’s Will Project, a national program by Women in the Life Association (WITLA) that uses pro bono attorneys to encourage gays to execute final and living wills that are legally binding, as a result of the aftermath of mayoral gay and lesbian liaison Wanda Alston’s murder.

”Her family denied her gay life, completely, even though she was a gay advocate,” Billings says. ”Wanda’s Will Project focuses on making sure that gay people have the legal resources necessary to help them establish wills that will be followed when they die.”

In addition to the grants, various organizations were recognized for their efforts within the past year.

Wanda’s Will Project was awarded the Billy Collison Award, which is given annually to an organization that ”exemplifies the fighting underdog spirit necessary for a small non-profit to succeed”; Equality Maryland received the Founders Award for its service and support of the gay community over the past year; Neil Alexander, the chief human rights judge for the District of Columbia and a long-standing member of the African-American and GLBT communities, was presented with the Anthony J. Bachrach Award; and Manhunt, an online networking site for gay men, was given praise for contributing to various local events and fundraisers, including the BHT 2006 calendar.

BHT dispersed a total of $132,249 among the 32 local not-for-profit community groups. The money was raised over the past year through individual contributions, fundraisers and endowments made by individuals over the years.

Over the past 29 years, BHT has donated more than $2 million.

”It doesn’t sound like a whole lot of money,” Billings says, ”but when you consider that BHT is an all-volunteer organization, that’s a pretty big deal.”

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