Posted at: 10/07/2013 1:12 AM
| Updated at: 10/07/2013 9:28 AM
By: Steve Flamisch
ALBANY -- The Albany Damien Center was still smoldering when two friends began planning its revival.
Norman Rea and Lance Rider, on vacation more than 1,000 miles away, organized a fundraiser to benefit the fire-damaged community center that helps people living with HIV and AIDS.
"I was actually in Florida when I got word of the fire," Rea, a community activist, told NewsChannel 13. "Within two minutes, I was on the phone and I said, 'I have to mobilize something in the community to help rebuild the Albany Damien Center.'"
Rider said they sketched out a plan over dinner.
"We sort of plotted it down on actual table napkins... what we were going to be able to do and how to put it together," Rider said. "I was all in."
Their plan came together Sunday with a Broadway-style cabaret at the bar Rider co-owns, ROCKS, 77 Central Ave. Nine performers, including NewsChannel 13's Benita Zahn, took the stage for an audience of donors.
"It was $100 per seat... and we have a sell-out event tonight," Maître D' Mark Rennell said. "We couldn't be prouder."
Between ticket sales and auctioned items, the benefit – “Out of the Ashes” -- brought in $24,500. An Albany couple offered to make an anonymous $10,000 grant, to bring the grand total to $34,500.
Albany Damien Center Executive Director Perry Junjulus expressed deep gratitude to all of the donors, including those who contributed $5,000 at a previous ROCKS-hosted benefit and $7,000 at an event organized by Denise Pensky and Dr. Robert Shoss of Albany Dermatology.
The money will help the Center provide counseling, meals, pet care, and many other services to hundreds of people living with HIV and AIDS, Junjulus said.
"They're wonderful people," he said. "They didn't deserve this disease. I'm a person living with AIDS, and I'm committed to making sure that we are going to be there for each man, woman, and child who needs us."
The cause of the August 29 fire at the Center's South Lake Ave. facility remains under investigation, Junjulus said. The extent of the damage will likely force the Center to relocate instead of rebuild, coming at an estimated cost of $300,000.
It is unclear how much insurance will cover.
The Center is still providing services at its temporary home, the First Lutheran Church, 181 Western Ave., while looking for an 8,000 - 10,000-square-foot facility, with space on the first floor, in close proximity to Albany Medical Center.
Junjulus said he is hopeful a building owner might have a suitable space to donate. Financial contributions are being accepted at: www.albanydamiencenter.org