OFFICIAL FAN CLUB
THE HOUSE THAT LOVE BUILT
CHASE RAISES MONEY FOR THE "CARING FOR BABIES WITH AIDS" ORGANIZATION THROUGH IMPROV AND MORE
By CHASE MASTERSON
When my son and I first moved to LA nine years ago, we were poor. I mean, we still had much more than literally most people on this planet, but I was in that "no-discernable-skills, couldn't find affordable childcare, and worse-yet-didn't-know-my-own-potential" place.
So I remember our run-down apartment, (in a neighborhood where I got mugged), and how I used to make dinner for just over a dollar each night (my son burned out on pasta by age 5.) But mostly I remember my white, T-top (but the T-tops were stolen so we couldn't go anywhere in the rain) '83 Chevy Camaro, which was so broken down that you could turn it on, but you couldn't turn it off, 'cause if you did then you couldn't turn it back on again for a long time.
Well about that time a friend and I had heard about an organization called Caring For Babies With AIDS (www.CaringforbabieswithAIDS.com). And the thought of it just blew us away. See, Caring For Babies With AIDS isnt just a charity, it's a house where the kids live, kids who are HIV positive and who don't have anywhere else to go.
So we decided to produce a project and gave all the money we made to them. And every day I would drive up to the office where we were working, and I would leave my car running in the driveway. (Believe me, no one would steal it.) And sure enough, someone would say, "Chase, is that your car running in the driveway?" and I would say, sheepishly, "Yes." And they would look at me with concern and say, "Don't you want to turn it off?" And I would say, even more sheepishly, "No."
I ended up having to leave that project, because I could barely take care of myself. So how much nicer it was, years later, to be able to say to CBA, "Hi. I'm back. And look who I brought with me."
Anyway, it was at that time that I first met Harriet Baron, who has been Development Director of CBA since October '91.
And because I'm truly a fan of CBA's, I asked Harriet (in the same curious, maybe awestruck way) what people sometimes ask actors: "What is it like, doing what you do?" She responds, "I must admit, the busy, administrative responsibilities far outrun the warm, fuzzy side of what we do. But yesterday, in the middle of what is always a laborious and tedious grant writing process, I heard six little feet coming up the stairs. And I looked up and there were three sets of little girl eyes looking at me, wondering what I was doing. When things like that happen, it gets me out of the tediousness. I can assure you that those six feet made me stop, those three little girls giggling made me stop. And I don't need that 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, but every now and then I welcome those 30 seconds of 'my god, you're the cutest things I've ever seen,' and that's what keeps me going.
CBA was founded in 1987 by a group of female social service and health care professionals. "Because of the work they did daily, they saw a need -- a real gap," reflects Baron. "Kids who were in need of placement, who were AIDS symptomatic or HIV positive, were languishing in hospitals & institutions. At the time, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, there were very few foster families willing to take kids in. There are more now, but not a lot. This group of women met the needs of those kids by creating this agency and opening this house."
And not just those women but many others. Claudia Wong has been volunteering at CBA every Thursday for the past five years. She shares, "It's wonderful. As you walk in the door, what you see are children. Children, like your children or my children, and yes, they have AIDS, but they're children first, who like everyone else, need love and attention and caring."
CBA received their beginning monies through private funding. Harriet emphasizes, "It's important that people realize that CBA opened up with the support of people just like them. People who donate whatever they can. We are very much appreciative of that type of grassroots donor."
And so are the kids, like 2-year old Robert, who had nowhere else to go. Like all of the children there, Robert was a placement from the Department of Children and Family Services. He thrived under CBA's care until such time as he could be placed with loving foster family members. "Robert just left last Monday," Harriet said, almost sadly. "He was here over a year."
Over half his little life. Talk about bittersweet. Just how that boggles my mind might have to go without saying.
A visit to CBA reveals a home not unlike others. Kids laugh and climb on those big primary-colored outdoor plastic things. The grass dances in the sunny afternoon breeze. The only obvious difference might be the piaques, in the corner of the yard, dedicated to the children who spent the last days of their little lives at CBA. Trinae, Gloria, Katherine...
In addition to their full house of 14 children from birth to about age 8, CBA also has an outreach program. Besides widespread, vital education/prevention programs, CBA provides counseling to about 300 individuals, mostly children who are HIV affected. There are about 30 families per social worker. "The families are seen 1-6 times per month max," Baron adds. "That's as much as we have the capacity of delivering."
Wait a minute. Not to get personal, but my life's pretty good and I still see a therapist 4 times a month just to keep it on track. What must it be like when you consider that the problems these people deal with are truly matters of life and death: poverty, sickness, neglect, addiction, prostitution...?
As Ginny Foat, who served as Executive Director for CBA for many years points out, "HIV is frequently the least of their problems." Baron agrees, "We're dealing with a variety of social ills -- homelessness, substance addiction, lack of community, generational lack of education -- this isn't something that happened just now. For them, poverty has been a way of life."
But, I ask, with all the education regarding the virus out there, can the spread of AIDS still be rampant? "Although treatment has been successful for some people, educational efforts still are not getting through. The numbers of people dying from AIDS complications is lowering; the number of people being infected is not." Equally sad is Harriet's note that, "In 1999 there is still a stigma attached to an HIV diagnosis."
Such was the case with 10-year old Brandon. "I had a rash on my face and the kids (at school) said, 'What have you got, AIDS or something?' I didn't say anything, and I didn't know what to say. I told Margie that I didn't want to go to that school anymore. "
His foster mother Margie tears up as she adds, "Oh, it crushed him."
The thin, quiet-but-personable boy freely speaks words I can't imagine uttering. "I think I caught it from my mom."
And when I remarked on the tragedy that one so innocent should have to have to bear all that pain, Harriet was quick to interject, "No one who has AIDS is guilty -- to say that these children are innocent would give the connotation that other people with AIDS are not. So we don't use the word 'innocent.' We say they're the 'smallest."'
So how do we help?
"As I've so often said, $25 and $50 checks opened up this agency. Also you know, when you're running a home you need things that are found in everyone's homes, items that just don't last long. We are always in need of household items -- towels, things that everyone can find and donate."
Is it really that easy?
Ask Harriet. "If someone is unable or reluctant to write a check, an in-kind donation is always appropriate." And tax-deductible, in the very same way.
One group which has caught the contagious bug of helping is The Grrl Genius Club (www.Grrlgenius.com), They're the group of stand-up comediennes known as "The Lilith Fair of comedy," touted as "Utterly hysterical," by Variety, and featured in TV guide. Grrl Genius does a monthly show at the Improv with about 8 top comedians-- past Geniuses have included Janeane Garafalo, Margaret Cho, Stephanie Miller, SUDDENLY SUSAN's Kathy Griffin, 3RD ROCK's Kristen Johnston, Perry Gilpin from FRASIER, and Kathy Kinney from "The Drew Carey Show."
Because The Improv and the comedians generously donate their space and time, 100% of the proceeds of the night go to CBA. So far, Grrl Genius has raised over $40,000. "The people from CBA did everything they could short of running off the stage when I tried to acknowledge what they do," laughed Cathryn Michon, who along with Penelope Lombard, is Grrl Genius' producer. "They truly do not do this for credit -- they're just here, month after month, year after year 'til the job gets done."
"The thing that we have always loved about this show, not to sound communist, but it's sort of a 'people's benefit,"' says Michon, whose hilarious work on the show -- though she is an accomplished actress and TV writer -- backs up her claim that "Grrl Genius" is her favorite thing she does. "It's not the same old tired suspects -- studio execs, etc. There are benefits all over town where people dress up and get glittery. At Grrl Genius it's about what real people can afford."
There ya go. Lots of ways to help if you want to. You can write a tax-deductible check. You can send old towels, or pick up a can-opener or some diapers next time you're out. Or if you're in Southern California, you can come and laugh your face off at the show which Hollywood Reporter just named one of the three hottest comedy shows in LA. (Although they're Grrl Geniuses, the show always touts one enlightened male. So it's not a night of goody-two-shes. Sorry.)
At the end of our talk, I tell Harriet thank you for her time, and say once again how much I admire the work CBA has done in the time I've known them. She humbly replies, "I hope that we're together when they tell us that we don't have to be here anymore. "
Harriet, you can count on it.
- It is estimated that 830,000 children worldwide are infected with HIV.
- If you'd like to volunteer for CBA or give a donation of any kind, please call
- 323.931.9828 or send to: P.O. Box 351535, Los Angeles, CA 90035
- CBA is very thankful for their corporate sponsors, which include MAC Cosmetics, Union Bank of California, NBC, and Starbucks, as well as Baby Guess and other past sponsors. "When you use these companies, you support us."
- For info on CBA, see www.CaringForBabiesWithAIDS.com.
- For info on The Grrl Genius Club, seewww.GrrlGenius.com.
- Chases Fan Club exists to support CBA. For more info on her charity work, see ChaseClub.com.
- This column was late, partly because Chase was out doing, instead of writing. C'est la vie. Thanks for understanding.
- Chase's salary for her column this month has been donated to CBA.
ISSUE 14.1 - MARCH 12, 1999