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An evening with friends raises $20,000
Canton--Radio station disc jockeys, drag queens, gay people and straight people came together for two reasons last weekend: to have a great time while helping important causes.
“Duets,” the eighth annual evening of entertainment sponsored by Friends Together for Life, raised money for charities with a focus on AIDS and gay groups.
Friends Together president MeLissa Franjesh said that 275 people descended on the McKinley Grand Hotel for the January 26 event. They enjoyed live and silent auctions, as well as dinner and an evening of duets sung by Becky Flinn, Michael Morris, Ryan Parkinson, Patty Foor, Haggy Hageman, Cesar Morales, David Price, Randy Stith, Justina Moore, Ryan Schmidt, Jon Fox and Franjesh herself.
Mike Schnell of WHOF 101.7 FM was the auctioneer for the live auction, which, along with the silent auction, included everything from food to fine jewelry.
During the evening, which raised around $20,000, Friends Together for Life doled out their first grant of the year. The Mount Union College Gay-Straight Alliance received $1,000 to promote their February 27 screening of the film For the Bible Tells Me So, co-sponsored by Equality Ohio and Alliance P-FLAG.
“Adam Leddy from Equality Ohio was there, and they have been trying to reach out to LGBT people in smaller communities and rural areas, so that brought the Mount Union College grant full circle,” Franjesh said.
The donation to the Mount Union GSA also illustrates a difference between Friends Together for Life and other groups that organize fundraisers and donate the money back to the community. Friends takes applications for grants and then issues the funds, as opposed to groups that designate a recipient of their largesse and then donate what they raise.
“I think they started to do that in the beginning,” said Franjesh, who has been with the group for five years, and the president for two, “but then as other needs came along during the year, we were like, oh my God, I wish we had done this.”
“We don’t push anyone away. Anyone is welcome to fill out a grant application,” she continued. “Of course, our main focus is and always will be AIDS awareness and education, but maybe an AIDS organization sends their folks to the Stark County Hunger Task Force. Friends Together for Life has for the last few years given a small grant to those organizations as well.”
“We know what it’s like to be turned away, and we’re turning no one away,” she concluded. “To fight discrimination, one must not discriminate.”
Friends Together for Life has also opened offices in Canton, acting as a de facto LGBT center. Any groups in the area can use the meeting space at 202 6th St. N.W., next to Canton Financial. It is currently open by appointment only.
“I know some of the Cantonese head north and go to the Akron Pride Center, but there’s nothing like that in Stark County, and we just want to have a place for the community,” she said, pointing out that the offices, being downtown, can be quickly and easily reached by bus, an option not available to Canton residents who might want to attend meetings at the Akron Pride Center.
“It is so very important for people to understand that Friends Together for Life is a board, not just one person. This board is so incredible, if I could stand on the roof and sing their praises . . . well, I do, actually!” Franjesh said, noting that the organization is always looking for more board members or people interested in being on the Friends of the Friends Committee, which helps with fundraising.
Franjesh’s two daughters with her partner, Patty Foor, both are on the “Friends of the Friends” committee. Cinara Foor, 12, helped with the auction, while 10-year-old Riniah Foor videotaped the event.
For more information about Friends Together for Life, or to book a meeting in their offices, call 330-455-3835 or go to www.FriendsTogetherForLife.com.
Brian DeWitt contributed to this report.