By Jackie Valley, Las Vegas Sun and U.S. News Agency / Asian
There was some dancing, singing, laughter and even a few tears as 380 local performers graced the stage at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, where more than 1,500 people attended the 26th annual “Ribbon of Life” show benefiting Golden Rainbow.
The new venue seemed to be pumping more excitement into the air as guests settled in for the show, which featured the largest cast ever for Golden Rainbow’s primary fundraiser. Acts included performances by “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular,” Broadway in the Hood, Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Chippendales, to name a few.
“We hope that this will be our permanent home,” said Lea Carrasco-Zanini, executive director of Golden Rainbow. “It’s absolutely stunning. I think it commands a respect from our audience.”
Last year, “Ribbon of Life” raised about $160,000 for Golden Rainbow, which provides housing and financial help to people living with HIV or AIDS, Carrasco-Zanini said.
By the end of Sunday’s show, organizers were hopeful this year’s fundraising goal of $200,000 would be met. Findlay Cadillac and Findlay Honda donated a combined $15,000 on top of an earlier donation of $5,000, Carrasco-Zanini said.
Pietra Sardelli, vice president of Golden Rainbow and producer of “Ribbon of Life,” said the nonprofit would like to expand its permanent housing program with this year’s funds.
“If they don’t have housing, the first thing to go is medication,” Sardelli said, referring to those living with HIV or AIDS in Clark County.
Golden Rainbow currently has eight two-bedroom apartments, a three-bedroom home and a two-bedroom town home that the group provides for people affected by HIV or AIDS who have no other place to live, according to the nonprofit’s website.
The coming together of the Las Vegas entertainment community to present “Ribbon of Life” began 26 years ago when a performer on the Las Vegas Strip contracted HIV. Organizers acknowledged that, at the time, they thought it would only be a few years until a cure was discovered.
Despite advances in treatment, a cure remains elusive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV and, of those, 20 percent do not know they are infected.
“It’s not in the media anymore, but it’s this silent killer,” Sardelli said. “We want to make sure we’re there for those people.”
Sardelli called the opening of the Smith Center and an increased marketing push on behalf of Golden Rainbow the “perfect storm” for boosting awareness through “Ribbon of Life.”
“The need, sadly, isn’t going away,” she said.
Las Vegas resident Christian McQuown attended “Ribbon of Life” Sunday for the sixth year. As an HIV/AIDS activist, he said the annual fundraiser holds a special place in his heart.
“This does affect everyone,” he said. “If you’re not infected, you’ll be affected.”
McQuown said the performers’ willingness to donate their time for “Ribbon of Life” amazes him each year and serves as call to action for the community.
“We just have to take responsibility for our neighbors,” he said. “We never know what they’re going through.”
At intermission, Las Vegas resident Theresa Goudeau could barely contain her excitement about the show — and her desire to be on stage with the other performers. The former lead singer for the now-shuttered “Folies Bergere” show at the Tropicana performed in about a dozen previous “Ribbon of Life” fundraisers.
“I think the show this year is spectacular,” she said. “It always is, but there’s something different. Maybe it’s the Smith Center.”
For Goudeau, part of the fundraiser’s magic is how it showcases the camaraderie in the Las Vegas entertainment community. Even as a spectator now, she hasn’t lost that sense of family.
“It’s fun, except that it makes me crazy,” she said, laughing. “I want to be up there.”