|GMHC officially opens new offices (photo by Winnie McCroy)|
by Winnie McCroy, EDGE contributor
May 2, 2011
Elected officials, HIV/AIDS activists and journalists crowded Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ seventh floor dining room on April 29 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened their new home on Manhattan’s far West Side.
Doctor Marjorie Hill, chief executive officer of GMHC; state Sen. Tom Duane; city Comptroller John Liu; Congressman Jerrold Nadler; state Assemblymember Dick Gottfried; Councilmember Daniel Garodnick; Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum were among those present.
GMHC’s new headquarters is spread over two floors-administrative offices and public policy staffers are on the sixth floor; and the living and dining rooms, SUNY computer lab, workforce development, mental health counseling, nutrition and wellness and a pharmacy are on the seventh floor. The offices are decorated in bright, engaging works by the Keith Haring Foundation. Services are organized to serve clients a more efficient and effective manner. But Hill stressed the people behind GMHC are more important than just a physical space.
"For 30 years, what made a house a home are the people," she said. "The staff who meet the people, the clients who come here with various challenges, the individuals who insure that we have resources to make things go smooth... While science has made what some of us thought would never happen - HIV for many people is a manageable illness - but in spite of that, science has not created a cure, science has not ended the stigma, poverty, racism, and homophobia that fuel the epidemic, and that’s where GMHC steps in... to challenge where science leaves off."
"Together we can forge a path to the future," Hill noted.
"This new home gives us the potential and promise to meet the increasing needs of HIV in the 20th century," she said. "We want to meet the problems by providing the opportunity for individuals not just to take meds or adhere to their treatment, although that is important, but the opportunity to live more full, more productive, meaningful lives in spite of HIV."
Hill then brought up Duane, an openly gay state senator with HIV who has a long history of working with GMHC. "Quite frankly, I would have thought the stigma would be gone by now, but sadly, far from it," said Duane. "Stigma still exists; here in New York City, in Albany; and GMHC has been a force in fighting back against stigma, and their work goes on. Congratulations to GMHC on your new home; it’s beautiful!"
"Who would have thought 30 years later we would still be fighting HIV/AIDS, but here we are, and GMHC has been a leader in the fight all along," added Duane; who praised GMHC’s wide variety work with every demographic impacted by HIV/AIDS, from serving clients to doing advocacy and policy work.
Hill also reflected upon GMHC’s history. The organization began with $7,000, but its annual budget has grown to $32 million. She acknowledged co-founder Dr. Larry Mass, who was in attendance, as well as others.
"A lot has happened to make this facility happen," added Liu. "A lot of struggles, financial and otherwise, but we are here because the mission of GMHC is even more critical than ever before... but there is still more work to be done. And the stigma Senator Duane talked about still exists. It speaks volumes to the need to have this kind of center. I want people to know that there is a family here at GMHC, clients can come here to get their meals, share in the camaraderie, and know that they have a safe place to come."
Hill was as proud of GMHC’s new headquarters as she was of the fact that the project came in under budget and without tapping into any program funds. She praised Chief Operating Officer Janet Weinberg for keeping her eyes on the prize while leading the organization into their new space.
"GMHC has been a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS for the past three decades. Through every fight we’ve had, GMHC has been there," said Nadler, who remembered working with the group in the ’80s to get the price of AZT lowered. "We have come a long way. We have changed the diagnoses of AIDS from a short-term death sentence to a chronic, manageable disease. We have changed the attitude in this country in a lot of ways, from needle exchange...to Ryan White and HOPWA funds. It’s taken a lot of work from many organizations, but none more so than GMHC. In addition to all of the direct services they provide - education, treatment, dealing with people on social services - it’s the powerful treatment model that GMHC pioneered that has made the work so effective."
David Valdez, chair of GMHC’s real estate committee, vetted six different real estate firms before choosing Cushman and Wakefield. He toured 30 different buildings to find the right location and negotiating lease agreements. In the end, Valdez said the new building will save GMHC tens of millions of dollars.
"The rent in the first year will be lower than last year’s rent in the old space," he said "And the results are not due to accident or luck. The team that formed in 2008 made this happen."
But at the end of the day, it is about the clients as Hill noted. GMHC receptionist, volunteer, and client Angelo Cavana shared his story about moving from Florida to New York in 2007. GMHC helped him get tested, find housing and fight his substance abuse problem. Cavana became a volunteer before becoming a peer educator last year.
"My journey really started when I walked through the doors of the Geffen Center," said Cavana. "Since then, my life has done nothing but improve."
Kleinbaum, a former GMHC board member, then blessed GMHC’s new home. "May this space be sacred with the blessings each of us brings, how we care for each other, how the staff and clients treat each other, sacred in the way the board meetings are held, in how the building is cleaned, how food is served with love and generosity, sacred in the way we believe in the power of each other to bring healing, hope and love to this world," she said. "Let this building be blessed with the many who will inhabit it, starting only days ago and for many days to come. May this building be full of blessings, and may each of us continue to bring blessings to this space every day."
Hill and Jonathan Tisch, whose mother Joan Tisch is a lifetime trustee on GMHC’s Board of Directors, then cut the bright pink ribbon.
GMHC is now located at 446 W. 33rd St. in Manhattan. Log onto www.gmhc.org for more information.