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Patches of love: AssistHers’ Vicki Parker (l) and Karen Morry display the AssistHers Memorial Quilt, a major silent auction item at Decadent Dessert and More, scheduled October 10. As OutSmart went to press, the quilt had already garnered a $1,000 bid, according to Parker, who created the quilt.

AssistHers’ ‘Decadent Dessert and More’ turns 10

by Nancy Ford (Photo by Ty Moz)

It’s a sweet, sweet pair of anniversaries, any way you slice it.

“AssistHers will be 15 years old next year, and this is Decadent Dessert and More’s 10th anniversary,” says Assist-Hers board member Karen Morry. Morry is also chair of Decadent Dessert, which has emerged as one of Houston’s most anticipated charitable events.

Each year for the past decade, more than a couple of hundred altruistic nibblers gather to sample “decadent” desserts and hors d’oeuvres provided by local restaurants and caterers, all in the name of “charity.”

“Years ago, there was a function called Sweet Charity where restaurants donated various desserts to help raise money for HIV/AIDS,” recalls Renee Tappe, Morry’s AssistHers’ sister and board member and volunteer for the organization. From there, the idea to hold a similar event to raise money and awareness for AssistHers was born.

“Decadent Dessert, of course, is now our biggest fundraiser and a wonderful chance for the community to gather and support one of their favorite charities,” Tappe says.

“At the beginning, I don’t think we had any live entertainment, but that changed through the years,” Tappe adds.

Avalon calling: Sisters of Avalon, a world fusion dance performance company, are scheduled to shake what their mommas gave them, at AssistHers’ Decadent Dessert and More.

Vocalist Gloria Silva and the Sisters of Avalon belly dance troupe provide entertainment for the event, scheduled Oct. 10, 4 p.m. at South Beach. [OutSmart’s Nancy Ford serves as emcee.]

At press time, the lineup of participating restaurants and caterers providing a spread of their tasty wares includes Michael’s Cookie Jar, Java Java Café, Carter & Cooley Company Delicatessen, Amanda’s Bake Shop, Chef Smirnoff Catering, Jim Benton of Houston Catering and Event Planning, Pie in the Sky Pie Company, Ruggles, Driftwood Catering, and Richard Torres’ Social.

“You won’t know what you’ve been missing ’til you taste it!” Morry promises.

Labor of Love

To mark its first-decade anniversary, Decadent Dessert has obtained a unique item for its silent auction: the AssistHers Memorial Quilt, designed and constructed by hand by Vicki Parker. Parker is also an AssistHers volunteer and board member at large.

“Each of the gently worn 17 T-shirts used in the quilt were donated by AssistHers volunteers spanning 14 years,” Parker says, explaining her handiwork.

“Earlier this year, I mentioned to Karen [Morry] that I quilt,” Parker says of her cuddly creation. “She said that she doesn’t sew herself, but had been thinking that a memory quilt of the AssistHers T-shirts would be a good idea. She organized the collection of the shirts, and I was presented with 35.”

Some of the T-shirts were well worn, some more faded than others, or the printed logos were of inconsistent size, Parker concedes. “I spread them all out and thought, ‘I’m not sure these colors even go together. How am I going to make this work? What have I gotten myself into?’” she laughs.

Parker says she hit on the idea of framing each T-shirt to bring unity and cohesion to the patterns. “I then went to the fabric store to pick out the background fabric. The light green T-shirt was a calming color, so I chose it to coordinate against.”

Cutting and preparing the T-shirts meant getting up close and personal with each one, Parker found.

“Tiny, tiny stains became apparent once I ironed them against a bonding
stabilizer. That meant finding another T-shirt of the same color without any micro-stains,” she says, taking deserved pride in her work. “Of the 35 T-shirts I was given, only one was of a particular color. It had a tiny blemish right in a spot I couldn’t cut out.”

What’s a quilter to do?

“That’s when I hit on the idea of the badges,” Parker says. “One of the badges covers a tiny blemish—I’m not going to reveal which one!”

Measuring approximately 54 by 72 inches, the colorful quilt also incorporates a traditional placement of 12 T-shirt blocks framed by sashing strips.

“The border is made of 90 flying ‘geese,’ with 23 additional flying ‘geese’ placed on the back,” Parker says. “Together, they represent the clients assisted by the organization to date.”

Parker says she hopes the person who receives the quilt at Decadent Dessert’s silent auction enjoys it as much as she did making it.

“I think it represents AssistHers: multi-dimensional in shape, size, and color—well-worn lives that retained their beauty and sturdiness through many washes, working together for a united purpose,” she says.

100 for 100

Officially, AssistHers was incorporated in 1996 to help lesbians coping with life-threatening illnesses by providing non-medical assistance. Fondly referred to all these years later as AssistHers’ “Founding Mothers,” a group of doctors, lawyers, therapists, philanthropists, fundraisers, and community leaders created the group.

“Imagine 16 women in committee, designing the structure, by-laws, and articles of incorporation—a feat overshadowed only by the Founding Fathers of our country,” jokes Lynn Schwartzenburg, former AssistHers president and board member.

The group found an already-proven model of “care teams” operated by HIV/AIDS-supportive organizations that helped people with AIDS by providing non-medical support like grocery shopping, cooking meals, housekeeping, and yard work—all the while providing social interaction and emotional support.

“It was the care-team approach that really gave AssistHers a framework,” Schwartzenburg says.

Care Teams may be the core of Assist-Hers, but by no means are the only function of the group. The AssistHers food assistance program helps clients purchase groceries for nutritional support, a transportation program takes clients to and from medical appointments, and case management services are provided through Montrose Counseling Center with a therapist-led support group.

“Through all of these programs, we seek to help our clients live life as normally as possible,” Schwartzenburg says. “We have such wonderful community support. Many times, organizations like the Houston Pride Band, Bayou City Performing Arts, and Bering Memorial UMC ‘Oodles of Noodles’ send tickets for our clients to use.”

Over the years, more than 100 lesbians have been AssistHers’ clients; others have utilized the group’s Quick Response Team (QRT) supporting clients on a short-term basis, for two to three months or so. A typical situation for a QRT is following a client’s surgery—if volunteers are available.

“We have around 100 volunteers, but we need more,” says Schwartzenburg. “Our ability to add new clients is directly related to how many volunteers we have available for care teams. We have waiting lists for clients, but until we have enough volunteers to create a care team, we cannot bring them on as clients.”

AssistHers’ volunteers are trained about the organization, the types of illnesses afflicting clients, the programs they offer to clients, the support they offer to volunteers, how and why to set boundaries with clients, and dealing with grief.

“It’s very rewarding, having a client and having a team to share the experience, but there are other ways to volunteer,” Schwartzenburg says. “We have clients for a long time, but volunteers can change teams or clients, take sabbaticals, work on a committee, or join the board of directors.

“AssistHers has a good framework to support volunteers and to have fun in the process,” Schwartzenburg says. “We can only be successful if we have happy volunteers.”

Volunteers gather on the second Saturday morning of each month in an informal setting at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, and then break for lunch at a local restaurant. To volunteer, purchase Decadent Dessert tickets, or learn more, log on to assisthers.org or call 713/521-4628.

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