In 1991, Jackie and Barbara Cooper were approached about being the faces of a new organization called the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund. The Coopers' oldest son died of complications related to AIDS, and the couple was eager to get involved in what was then a widely misunderstood disease.
Since that time, the organization has raised millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care through the annual Red Tie Night. This year's event will be held Saturday at the Cox Convention Center.
The evening includes a live and a silent auction, all the proceeds of which go to fund the organization's efforts. The silent auction includes custom jewelry, men's clothing and sports memorabilia, including items signed by Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy. The live auction features a trip to a live taping of "The Martha Stewart Show" and a private lunch with Stewart afterward.
"We rely on this night to provide funding for all the grant applications approved by the committee," said Mark Beutler, vice chair of the event. "We're holding our breath this year. We're worried about the economy and hoping it won't affect our patrons' willingness to help."
Beutler said the night typically raises about $1 million.
"The event and the organization are almost exclusively volunteer driven," he said. "Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund has one paid employee. Everything else is done through volunteer efforts. That means all the money raised, except for the cost of the event, goes to our grant recipients."
Kyle Hill, event chairman, said the emphasis right now is on care and prevention.
"Remarkably, Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of infection in the country," he said. "We're making a big push to get care for these people, as well as to prevent new infections."
The organization's executive committee reviews grant applications from educational and nonprofit organizations and then decides on the recipients. While the group's three main goals are always at the forefront of the decision-making process, Beutler said it also has an "emergency fund" for needs that may not be directly related to the illness.
"Recently, we provided air conditioning for a woman who had been diagnosed with HIV and who lived in a home with no air," he said.
The evening kicks off at 6 p.m. with cocktails and a silent auction. Dinner is served at 8 p.m, followed by a live auction, music and dancing. Beutler said tickets are still available for individuals, couples and groups. Reservations can be made for individual seats or an entire table. For tickets or more information, call 348-6600 or visit www.okaidscarefund.com. "Greg Horton