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Thirty miles and worlds apart

Posted: March 31st, 2017 | Featured, News | No Comments

SDGMC embraces their extended family across the border

By Tom Felkner

It’s Monday night and the 170 singers belonging to the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus (SDGMC) have gathered on an unseasonably cool Hillcrest evening to rehearse for its upcoming “Broadway NOW” show.

There’s singing, dancing and even a TV news crew stopping by to film the group for an upcoming segment.

(l to r) San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus members Jesus Eder, Cary Berner, Sean Redmond, Jackson Redmond and Antonia Mertz-Vega unload a pallet of “wish list” items donated by Loews Coronado Bay Resort for Tijuana’s AIDS hospice. (Courtesy SDGMC)

But just 30 miles to the south — across the border and alongside Camino a Valle Redondo in Tijuana — the evening sun casts its rays on an entirely different scene at Albergue Las Memorias, the clinic serving as the city’s de facto AIDS hospice. Some of the region’s most seriously ill call this sparsely furnished, cinderblock-constructed building their home.

Though seemingly worlds apart, the two communities have come together as part of the SDGMC’s outreach partner program, which seeks to raise awareness of people and groups doing extraordinary good in our community.

“We’ve all seen the devastation brought on by AIDS. Mix it with poverty, homelessness and addiction and it’s a powder keg waiting to explode,” said Bob Lehman, SDGMC executive director. “What this clinic is doing is just short of a miracle.”

Residents are people who have lived on the streets for a good part of their lives. The clinic provides them with food, clothes, a bed to sleep in, transportation to and from doctor’s offices, and the medication they need for HIV and other illnesses.

This is a “working together” community, with no nurse or doctor on site. It’s just the residents taking care of each other.

“I’ve seen people be nearly dead and today I see them walking around and being part of the community and being so grateful for Las Memorias,” said Rev. Jerri Handy, a missionary who works at the clinic. “The love softens hearts and changes lives.”

Crossing the border to help those in need is a life’s work for many San Diego organizations, including the Imperial Court de San Diego, which has made supporting Las Memorias one of its main areas of focus for many years.

Other groups, like Hillcrest’s University Christian Church — where the chorus rehearses — also help sponsor the clinic, through its missionary program.

“For more than 30 years, San Diego’s LGBT community has been helping our brothers and sisters in Mexico who are living with HIV/AIDS,” said Nicole Murray Ramirez. “Our contributions help improve their quality of life.”

Members of the chorus and the local community will be collecting “wish list” items for the clinic in the weeks leading up to the April 22 and 23 Broadway Now show dates.

Items needed include cleaning supplies, personal care and hygiene items, over-the-counter medicine, and wound-care supplies.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort has already donated enough personal care products to fill an SUV, thanks to chorus member Cary Berner, the resort’s director of human resources.

Anyone wishing to donate items may drop them off — through April 17 — during SDGMC rehearsals, which are held Monday nights from 7–10 p.m. at the University Christian Church, located at 3900 Cleveland Ave. in Hillcrest.

In addition, Las Memorias will also be the beneficiary of the chorus’ popular upcoming spring performances. The Stonewall Citizens Patrol — which has been on hand keeping attendees safe at each chorus performance since the Pulse shooting in Orlando last June — has offered to accept “wish list” items and fill up their patrol car at the April performances.

You can also always donate cash by depositing it into the big ruby slipper during the show as well.

To learn more about the SDGMC, or to get tickets to their upcoming spring show, “Broadway NOW,” held April 22 at 8 p.m. and April 23 at 3 p.m., at the historic Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., Downtown, visit sdgmc.org.

To find other ways to help the chorus or support its many outreach programs, visit sdgmc.org/ways-to-give.

—Tom Felkner is a freelance writer and the husband of SDGMC Executive Director Bob Lehman. He can be reached at tdfelkner@gmail.com.

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