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D.C. Names Project to disband in rift with AIDS Quilt group: Local chapter believes new contract demands will affect fundraising


Washington Blade - March 22, 2002

The D.C. chapter of the organization that sponsors the AIDS Memorial Quilt announced on Wednesday, March 20, that it is disbanding rather than agree to a controversial contract with the national group that members felt would destroy the local group's independence and threaten its finances.

The 13-year-old Names Project Chapter of the National Capital Area now becomes the sixth known quilt chapter out of about 30 to disband during the past several months in a simmering controversy over a reorganization plan adopted by the Names Project Foundation. The foundation, which moved its headquarters last year from San Francisco to Atlanta, is the group that has sponsored and organized the construction and showings of the AIDS Memorial Quilt since 1987.

"The proposed agreement would have required the chapter to surrender its independence, giving the national foundation a high degree of control of our operations," said a statement released by the D.C. chapter's 11-member board of directors. "Given the foundation's poor track record of financial stewardship, we could not agree to this demand." In a November 2001 letter to the chapters, the national office said the reorganization was part of an effort to strengthen the foundation following a period when it was "teetering on collapse." The letter said the foundation "is now in a stable enough position to pursue and continue the strategic planning process." In late December, the foundation sent each of its chapters a contract, which it said should be signed and returned by Jan. 26. The deadline was later extended to Feb. 9.

Julie Rhoad, the foundation's managing director, informed local officials that those chapters that refused to sign and return the contract by the date specified would be considered to have severed their ties with the foundation.

"We don't want to see anyone go," Rhoad told Southern Voice in February. "But we have to have rules, and this contract was drawn up by two elected chapter representatives. The vast majority of chapters returned their contracts with no complaints," she told the Atlanta paper, which is published by Window Media, which also publishes the Blade.

Rhoad told the Blade this week that she is saddened that the D.C. chapter has chosen to disband but that she respects their decision. Rhoad said while the D.C. chapter played an important role in the three past showings of the full quilt on the Mall in D.C., the national foundation has the capability to bring the quilt back to the nation's capital if the board chooses to do so in the future. She called the decision to put in new contracts that centralized the foundation's system of chapters was "strictly a business decision" aimed at eliminating duplication of functions, including fundraising activities.

Rhoad said that at any given time, at least one third of the 54-ton quilt is on the road, being displayed in community centers, churches, schools, and at public events throughout the country. She said the national foundation arranges for 2,000 quilt displays each year.

According to Rhoad, the foundation has an annual budget of about $2 million, down from nearly $2.6 million several years ago. She said the foundation eliminated a $400,000 to $500,000 deficit it faced last year and that it is now operating with a balanced budget.

Mike Bento, a member of the board of the D.C. chapter and a longtime organizer of quilt-related events, said the D.C. chapter, like other chapters, has operated as a nonprofit, semi-autonomous entity since 1987. He said the local group has an annual budget of $500,000 and that it raises all of its funds from D.C. area contributors. Bento said the chapter operates a combination office-workshop on 15th Street, NW, which is staffed by one full-time and one part-time employee.

The local chapter has displayed the quilt in Washington to more than 2 million people and has provided "direct services to 70,000 visitors at our workshop," according to the statement released by the board.

Bento said finance statements from the foundation show that its recent fund-raising events have yielded only about 40 cents on the dollar in net proceeds, with the remaining 60 percent going to overhead expenses. He said the D.C. chapter's fund-raising events have yielded close to 90 cents on the dollar in net proceeds.

If the D.C. chapter became absorbed into the corporate structure of the national foundation, as Bento said is called for by the foundation's contract, the Names Project would no longer be eligible to receive contributions from mainline charities like the D.C. area's Combined Federal Campaign. Charitable fund-raising organizations such as the CFC, which raises funds from federal government workers, require that recipient groups have a ceiling on overhead costs from their own fund-raising programs that the national Names Project Foundation would not be able to meet, Bento said.

Rhoad disputes Bento's claim that the foundation's fundraising costs come to 60 percent saying the figure was "considerably lower than that." FOR MORE INFO NAMES Project Foundation P.O. Box 5552 Atlanta, GA 31107 404-688-5500 The AIDS Memorial Quilt consists of more than 46,000 6-foot-by-3-foot cloth panels commemorating people who have died of AIDS in the United States and abroad. Most of the panels were made by friends and relatives of the deceased persons, under the supervision of the Names Project Foundation and its various chapters. The quilt became the subject of widespread media coverage when organizers displayed it in its entirety on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on several occasions.

The chapters have organized showings of sections of the quilt in cities and towns throughout the country, including at schools and civic events.

News reporter Lou Chibbaro Jr. can be reached at


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Information in this article was accurate in March 22, 2002. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.