Ellis: “When you read stories about kids who have been thrown out on the street by their parents, or their church, or have been bullied at school because of their lifestyle, it is difficult not to be extremely touched.”
By Cliff Dunn
On Friday, December 30, the Gamma Mu Foundation kicks off three days of New Year’s events in Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale. Called HEAT 12, the weekend is the non-profit organization’s major yearly fundraising effort.
The weekend events are open to both Foundation members and those who want to contribute financially to the organization’s ongoing philanthropic efforts. As described in the Gammu Mu Foundation’s Mission Statement, these efforts are aimed at establishing “… a perpetual, philanthropic fund to provide financial assistance for the health, enhancement, and pride of our community.”
The Gamma Mu Foundation was organized to endow financial grants to organizations and individuals, mostly in rural America, to make direct assistance available to people with HIV/AIDS. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization under the rules of the IRS Code.
Its genesis as a charitable institution began in 1989, when members of the private Gamma Mu Fraternity established the separate Gamma Mu Foundation to support many of the unmet needs of the gay community on a nationwide, ongoing basis. Initially, the projects of the Foundation were funded by the original Board of Directors, but from its inception, the group’s intention has been to build that seed-support through the contributions of its members, as well as their friends and associates, and those who are looking to aid in the group’s ongoing efforts.
Says Foundation board member John Ellis II, “Once I joined the social side of Gamma Mu, I realized how the ongoing work the Foundation blended with my desire to work within our community to help the Foundation grow.”
Like other board and Foundation members, Ellis recalls his skills as a successful businessman dovetailed well with the non-profit’s needs for experts to take part in the way the funding for the Grants and Scholarships is utilized.
The Foundation bestows its largesse in a number of ways. According to the non-profit’s Web site, these include awarding grants to 501(c)(3)’s working in America’s rural HIV/AIDS environment, providing graduate-level scholarships to college and university students whose degree programs have a positive influence on LGBT-acceptance in the community-at-large, conducting fundraising events across the U.S. (such as next weekend’s HEAT 12 in Greater Fort Lauderdale) - and providing both the means and know-how to establish outright, annual, and memorial gifts, and planned giving through wills, charitable trusts, and life insurance assignments.
Those benefiting from Foundation programs include persons with HIV/AIDS (PWA’s) and their families. Starting in 1999, the Foundation expanded its policies to include grants for programs other than HIV/AIDS. These include the awarding of undergraduate and advance degree scholarships to gay men as well as grants to organizations meeting special needs within LGBT groups that include youths, seniors, and victims of domestic violence.
The Foundation also provides funding through research and public education grants with the goal of making the world a better place for everyone, without regard to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In all cases, the Foundation looks to make grants to organizations located in rural areas where the need is great and the resources are often very limited. To date, the Foundation has awarded over $1,500,000 to more than 100 organizations: over 90% of these awards have been in rural areas.
Says board member Ellis, “To my knowledge we are among very few organizations giving grants to rural HIV/AIDS support groups in this manner.”
Grants and scholarships are bestowed annually by the Foundation based upon a formal application and approval process. Only organizations and individuals in the United States are eligible for Gamma Mu Foundation financial assistance. All groups qualifying for Gamma Mu Foundation assistance must currently qualify as 501(c)3 charitable organizations as defined by the IRS. With the exception of scholarships, Gamma Mu Foundation does not make financial assistance grants to individuals.
Even at a time when Americans routinely contribute 2% of our annual gross domestic product to charitable and non-profit organizations – in excess of $175 billion annually – there is always a need for the assistance of other benefactors to support the Foundation’s goals.
“Our requests for grants far exceed the funds available on a yearly basis,” Ellis notes. “The scholarship requests also way outnumber the available funds. The grants and scholarships we do fund are well deserving and very effective in their communities.”
Ellis says that the grant and scholarship requests are read by a large group of volunteers, who use a one-to-ten scale to score each individual application, based upon a range of criteria. At the conclusion of that process, the results are compiled and winners selected at the Foundation’s annual meeting.
“Those of us who are ‘readers’ feel that the process is awakening,” emphasizes Ellis. “At the conclusion, we really have a sense of contributing to the community and a certain understanding of how much need there is for what we do.”
Ellis and his fellow “readers” say that the scholarship review process can be especially emotional times. The scholarship requests from individual students background information such as school records, but also there are also stories about the personal experiences of the applicants, which include in numerous instances tales of bullying and family rejection.
Notes Ellis: “We focus on selecting the students who are scholastically able to succeed, but there is no question that when you read stories about kids who have been thrown out on the street by their parents, or their church, or have been bullied at school because of their lifestyle, it is difficult not to be extremely touched.”
New Year’s weekend promises to be an entertaining time for the Florida members of the Foundation, who are hosting their fellows from across the country.
The kick-off event on December 30, “Manor Sizzle,” is a three-hour post-work-week casual mixer at The Manor Restaurant and Nightclub Complex in Wilton Manors, hosted by entertainer Joe Posa as “Joan Rivers,” followed on Saturday night with their New Year’s Eve 16th Annual Tropics Ball and Casino Royale fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, and Sunday’s “Wake Up Bloodies-Plus” Brunch at the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
Reflecting upon the work of the Gamma Mu Foundation, and its founder, Cliff Pettit, Ellis says that in addition to a sense of accomplishment, his membership in the organization has paid dividends of a different nature.
“When I joined Gamma Mu I, had just retired from a corporate position, and found myself with a lot of time available,” recalls Ellis.
“The first benefit was being able to meet new people and develop new friendships, many outside of Florida. Being active in the Foundation has increased that number of friends manifold, and I have been able to work on and build upon something I truly believe in.”
For more information about the Gamma Mu Foundation and HEAT 12, visit www.gammamufoundation.org.