As the sun sets upon Sagaponack, the vivid stripes of pinkish, orange and sky-blue-hued clouds blanket the fields of Luna Farm. For the past decade, these same fields have set the stage for several “Love Heals” fundraisers to benefit The Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education.
Gertz was a Westhampton resident who became infected with HIV from a single sexual encounter when she was 16 years old. Gertz didn’t find out she was infected until she was 22 in 1992. This was before the life-saving drugs that people take today to prolong their lives.
When Gertz’s story broke, it was front-page news in The New York Times. Oprah picked up the story and featured Gertz on an hour-long episode because at that time, she wasn’t the stereotypical victim to contract AIDS.
Over the years, the celebrities who have attended the Love Heals benefit include Julianna Margulies, Ed Burns, Star Jones and Molly Sims. The guests’ attire has certainly evolved from year to year, along with the fundraisers’ party themes. In 2005 it was “The Great Gatsby” and this past Saturday a “Coney Island” theme hit the Hamptons, complete with Nathan’s hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, CRUMBS Bake Shop cupcakes and Southern-style barbeque courtesy of Deforest Gibbs.
Estee Lauder’s cover girl model, Hilary Rhoda, stylist Mary Alice Stephenson and Avenue’s Peter Davis co-hosted this season’s 12th Annual Love Heals. Celebrity Photog Adriel Reboh snapped up pics of VIP guests who came out to support, including: Russell Simmons, RHONY stars Sonja Morgan and Cindy Barshop, Sean Avery, Chris and Cristina Cuomo, Andrew Saffir, Elizabeth Harrison, Daniel Benedict, Richard Kubick, Ariel Moses, Bradford and Melissa Rand, Jeff Goldstein, Brian and Simona Cushman, Michael and Marcy Warren, Justin Mitchell, Marc Simon, Scott Rausch, Samantha Daniels, Sydney Sadick and Tia Walker.
Now, even after all these years, there is one element of the Love Heals benefit that hasn’t changed, and that would be its overall mission.
Similar to how Kevin Costner’s character in the film Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, heard a voice in his corn field that told him, “If you build it, he will come,” The Love Heals founders, Dini von Mueffling, Stefani Greenfield and Victoria Leacock Hoffman, were close friends of the late Alison Gertz, and they still hear her voice reminding them to educate young people about the AIDS virus.
Mueffling revealed, “The money that you donate goes right to our programs and helps reach the young people.” Since 1992, AGF has been empowering young people in the fight against HIV and AIDS by creating and distributing educational materials and by having HIV positive speakers share their extraordinary stories with students and teachers in an attempt to teach tolerance, dispel stigma and foster self esteem among those youngsters afflicted with this terrible disease.
Love Heals has reached more than 400,000 young people throughout the New York metropolitan area, including 43,000 last year alone.
Mueffling says, “we have been very fortunate” with regard to sponsorship support when it comes to pulling off a successful event all these years. Luna Farm’s owner graciously donates the property. “We don’t pay for the farm, which is a huge gift. You don’t get to do events in a field like this.”
If Gertz were alive to witness the thousands of dollars raised year after year in her name she would be thrilled to know that almost 20 years later, her best friends and parents are working hard to keep her mission alive. Mueffling told me, “She was such a dynamic person and she could have done anything with the last four years of her life. She could have seen the world, but instead she knew that she had something very important to say.”
Gina Glickman Giordan is a TV Host, News Correspondent, Executive Producer and founder of GMG Entertainment. Watch Giordan’s exclusive celebrity interviews and event-life coverage series, “In The Mixx,” on People Magazine TV, Hamptons Magazine TV, Dan’s Tube and www.InTheMixxShow.com. [/expand]