The event will start at 6:30 p.m. April 5 at the Crystal Team Room in the Wanamaker Building, 100 Penn Square East. In addition to the games, this year’s program will honor human-sexuality educator and former ActionAIDS employee Al Vernacchio with the Founders’ Award. Vernacchio will be joined by awardees Ronda Goldfein, executive director of AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, who will be presented with the Favorite Straight Person of the Year Award, and Kevin and Keisha Diggs, who will be given the Ferrara Family Volunteer Award.
The event will feature drag performances from the Bingo Verifying Divas. There will be a total of six bingo games, as well as dinner, dancing and a silent auction.
AIDS Fund executive director Robb Reichard said the organization expects a turnout of more than 250 people and is aiming to raise more than $35,000, which will be distributed to various HIV/AIDS organizations and agencies.
Reichard said although AIDS Fund tries to bring new features to the mix each year, GayBINGO! is a widely popular event as is.
“We have a formula that works,” he said. “You never know what the Bingo Verifying Divas are going to bring to the evening, both in costuming and their performances. They always make the evening.”
The award ceremony is also a consistent facet of GayBINGO!
The Founder’s Award, Reichard said, is given to someone who has exhibited a deep and enduring commitment to the HIV/AIDS community, a description fitting of Vernacchio.
“Al has been involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS for decades and in reaching youth has had a particularly strong impact in his role as a teacher and nationally recognized sex educator,” he said.
Vernacchio, who is openly gay, worked as a volunteer coordinator and trainer at ActionAIDS from 1994-98 while he was pursuing his degree in human sexuality at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently works at Friends’ Central School as a sexuality educator.
Vernacchio said the sense of community at ActionAIDS was unparalleled.
“I was a part of a community that was so clearly dedicated to caring for people and to helping people live the best lives despite the limitations that HIV was placing on them at that time,” he said. “We were doing what a lot of people in society should be doing but weren’t. It felt good to be on the side of compassion and openness and caring for people.”
After leaving ActionAIDS, Vernacchio stayed on as a volunteer. He said his experience at the agency has helped him become a better educator.
“I saw the work at ActionAIDS as a form of social justice and when I teach human sexuality, I see it through the lens of social justice as well,” he said.
Vernacchio, who serves as the faculty advisor for his school’s gay-straight alliance, said Friends students take part in community service and that, for five full days, instead of going to classes, the students volunteer for different organizations.
“We go to different organizations and agencies and I always take students to ActionAIDS and to AIDS Fund as a way to help them connect and see the work they are doing,” he said.
Vernacchio said he’s humbled to receive the Founders’ Award.
“When I look at what I have done, it feels like little things but it is such an affirmation that many little things taken together can produce great results, and all we have to do to make a significant difference in the world is to take a step,” he said. “What you do makes a difference.”
For more information or tickets, call 215-731-9255 or visit www.aidsfundphilly.org.