By Theresa D. McClellan
Whenever Lavita Marks thinks about the necessity of AssistHers and the importance of the financial support the Decadent Desserts & Dancing annual fundraiser provides, she remembers the story of an elderly lesbian eating dog food—yes, dog food.
An AssistHers volunteer was acquainted with the woman and was surprised to see dog food in her cupboard. The woman had no pets.
The socially isolated lesbian, who lived on food stamps, confessed it was all she could afford and it gave her the protein she needed. The volunteer talked with Marks, who encouraged her to tell the woman to ask for help through AssistHers. Now, there are no longer cans of dog food in the woman’s cupboard.
Marks, who served six years as President with AssistHers before it merged as a program with the Montrose Center, worries that overlooked and vulnerable lesbian or non-binary folks out there may still be eating dog food because they don’t know about AssistHers and the services it provides.
In the AssistHers program, clients receive $125 monthly food cards, transportation to doctor appointments and most importantly a team of 3-4 volunteers who become their friends and sometimes surrogate family and lifeline to the outside.
For many elderly LGBTQ+ women and non-binary folks who may have been abandoned by their family because of who they love, or who may be forced back into the closet if they are in senior housing, AssistHers helps them maintain or even start a social connection.
That connection is the beauty of AssistHers. Marks calls it “the heartbeat of AssistHers” because, as volunteers, we engage with the clients on so many levels, providing a range of services and socialization with the exception of medical and healthcare services.
Full disclosure, not only am I a professional writer, I am an AssistHers volunteer.
We hear our clients’ stories and see their pictures. We accompany them shopping or to the movies and to doctor appointments. We visit them in their nursing homes or hospitals. We hear their fears, and we know what makes them laugh.
Like a flower receiving sunlight after being stifled in the darkness, once they join AssistHers, we watch them bloom. As we maintain that gift of presence, we take the journey with them as they eventually physically decline and pass on. And after a period of grieving because they become our friends, we eventually take on another client and join another team as the need is great.
The need is great, but the time commitment is not. It only takes less than five hours a month, including the Second Saturday meeting at the Montrose Center, where all the volunteers gather together once a month to encourage one another, share stories and learn something new.
Pretty sweet, huh?
And that’s where the Decadent Desserts & Dancing come in.
The fun starts here:
Every year the owners of Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, 11410 Hempstead Road, swing open their doors to the annual AssistHers fundraiser called Decadent Desserts & Dancing. They are back at it Sunday, February 23, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for $25 tickets now or $30 at the door.
Or, you can splurge and support a good cause with a $100 ticket to the 1 p.m. VIP Reception with an open bar. Even tell us you really care with a $500 individual sponsorship that includes VIP tickets for two, plus a reserved table for four at the main event.
There will be huge donated gift baskets galore including, the popular All About Travel; All About Booze; All About Pets; and All About Date Night packages.
Eager for a chance at the cool presents, some go to all lengths to increase their chances of winning, Yes, they buy raffle tickets by the length of their arm and strategically stroll around the saloon dropping tickets in their coveted package, It’s almost like a dance.
And what better place than Neon Boots to get your groove on?
“There’s a huge variety of music and all kinds of line dancing and disco. Instead of just couples, there’s lots of group dancing to music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s to the present,” Sandy Uhland recalls.
And what do you wear for Decadent Desserts? “Anything goes. You’ll see jeans and boots to t-shirts and pink tutus. Our friends had the pink tutus,” Uhland says.
There is a diversity of dishes, dancing, gift baskets, and revelers from 18 to at least 85. “One friend brought her mom. She’s 85, and she loved it. But she didn’t do much dancing,” Uhland says.
Organizer Meleah Jones of the Montrose Center has lined up the entertainment and the participants of restaurants and donation gift baskets. “We are always looking for more,” she says. She nabbed Nina Lombardo as the emcee.
Jones also wants plenty of people to buy tickets and come out for fun and give financial support by voting for your favorite competitor. “The more who come out, the more we can give for AssistHers,” Jones says.
“There is such a need, and the lesbian is so often overlooked,” Marks says. “I’m 62, and I hear from those who are 88. We’ve come so far, and yet we’ve taken a huge step back because of the political scene we are in, Yes, we won the right to marry, but it is in jeopardy, and the right to adopt kids no one wants is in jeopardy,” Marks says.
“These women have stories. They are intelligent. They are pretty amazing women. It only takes one visit a month and a Second Saturday meeting. We want more volunteers. We take everyone” Marks says.
Anita Das, LGBTQ Health Education and Outreach Specialist with the Montrose Center, says that AssistHers has 15 clients. They are looking for both more clients and volunteers, “but particularly for more volunteers as some of our clients don’t have a care team yet.”
To be a part of the team, contact Anita Das at [email protected]
Sounds sweet. To learn more about the Sunday, February 23 event, or to get tickets, please click here.
Theresa D. McClellan, a freelance journalist and owner of Theresa McClellan Writing Services, is an AssistHers volunteer and writer of the new monthly AssistHers blog: “AssistHers: The Heartbeat.”