Living Room serves gay Atlanta ‘Taste of Life’

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Gay Atlanta is in for a treat on Saturday as Living Room, which provides housing for people with HIV, offers a revamped, refashioned and redone version of its signature fundraiser. Think food, wine and fun for a cause.

Taste of Life, hosted at the Mary Gay House in Decatur, will feel different than in years past. What used to be a smaller fundraiser for the organization helping HIV-positive individuals with housing now has a new location and focus. Besides being an evening of food and wine tasting and socializing that will raise funds for the organization, the event will also honor Joining Heart’s Wes Berry (photo).

Project Q Atlanta caught up with Jonathan Shapero, the event chair, Angela Susten, Living Room's executive director Living Room, to discuss how the was hatched, why it's honoring Berry, and why gay Atlanta should support the evening.

What's the mission of Living Room?

Susten: Our mission is to help Georgians living with HIV/AIDS to obtain and maintain longtime permanent housing. We only serve people who are HIV-positive and are homeless or in risk of becoming homeless. We are considered the clearinghouse for HIV-supported housing services in Atlanta. We have been that for many years. If someone is interested in moving into HIV supported housing, such as Jerusalem House, they must come to us to gain access to that housing. We call that centralized intake.

How long have you been with the organization?

Susten: I came in as the intake coordinator in January 2013 and I made my way up quickly to director of client services and then to deputy executive director. Unfortunately with the passing of our former executive director Chuck Bowen last year, I was promoted to acting executive director and then last month I was appointed to executive director. I’ve been her a little over three years and my current role just over three weeks.

Shapero: I joined the board a year ago but have been involved three years. I am not chair of the board but I am the chair of this event.

How did this event come about?

Susten: We had been looking at changing our event strategy. Prior to 2013 we would often hold the typical gala. It was called the Sapphire Ball. It was fairly successful. So last year was our 20th anniversary and we held some signature events. We had an Emerald Ball at Zoo Atlanta. It was a lot of fun but we felt it still wasn’t right for Living Room.

Taste of Life is an event we have done in partnership with Holy Cross AIDS Ministry for at least seven years. It was always quite successful and we made a decent profit. Last fall, we decided to make it our annual event. It’s been revamped and modified. It’s a great event that holds on to some of our key elements. It’s for a good cause and it’s important to band together now more than ever and show support for those living with HIV/AIDS because of the epidemic we have seen in the city. Coming to the event shows unity for the cause.

What kind of crowd are you hoping for?

Shapero: We are hoping for 200. We want to grow it and double that and eventually make it a great city-wide food and wine tasting event.

What can patrons expect?

Shapero: Taste of Life has been an annual event but not our big signature event, which it will be for the first time this year. This year we have media personality Evelyn Mims as our honorary co-chair, former radio host Vikki Locke is a presenter and we have a new host committee. It will be a fun, casual evening. We have brought in several food vendors, the most important being Soiree Catering. Project Open Hand’s retail division Good Measure Meals is joining us as well. That is a great thing, because our missions are similar. You can expect a lot of great food, a full bar, wine tasting, a great silent auction and DJ Yvonne Monet.

As well, we will present our annual Sister Mary Jane Lubinski Home Finder Award, which is named after Living Room's founder and goes to a local community person. This year it will go to Joining Hearts President Wes Berry.

Can you talk about the decision to honor Berry?

Shapero: He has grown Joining Hearts tremendously. Last year into this year he has changed their mission in an incredible way. They are creating much better outreach and funding to service patients with HIV/AIDS. It was a pivotal year for him and we wanted to honor him

Tell us about the venue.

Shapero: We have moved it from a church to the Mary Gay House in Decatur. It’s an antebellum house, purchased several years ago, that been transformed to an event space. There is an interior and a great outdoor space.

Taste of Life is Saturday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets and more information.

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