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Making a Difference in Your Community : They Prescribe Creativity Against HIV

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Staying vital is critical to staying alive, the Encino-based nonprofit group IDEAS believes. Since 1990, the group has been helping HIV/AIDS sufferers and their loved ones find a reason to keep living.

“Being creative can really help a person live better, if not longer,” says IDEAS President Michael Fletcher. “We help people find new identities or new meanings or richer values in being alive, to the point where someone can make their mark in five years, as opposed to a lifetime, if that’s how long they have to live.”

Members of IDEAS, who currently number 80 to 100 people, many of them from the San Fernando Valley, meet at sites throughout Los Angeles. About half are HIV-positive or already suffering from AIDS.

A writing workshop is conducted on Thursday evenings at the United Way building in Van Nuys. General meetings, where members are matched with various art projects, take place at the same location on the third Thursday of every month.

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The group, whose title is a loose acronym for Identity in Existence Artworks Shops, produces plays, public service announcements, visual art shows and even radio plays, all pertaining to the human immunodeficiency virus and the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

People facing almost certain death have a lot to contribute, Fletcher says.

“Society wants to sort of throw those people away, but they are a tremendous resource in terms of their clarity of vision,” he said. “Many young men infected with HIV are in their prime producing years. We give them the resources and technical assistance to pursue their goals.”

In one case, Fletcher said, two HIV-positive war veterans wanted to write a play. They had a story line but no experience in playwriting.

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IDEAS, which gets the bulk of its funding from private donations, hired a professional scriptwriter, who helped the men develop their play.

The result was a piece called “The Martian Condition,” a series of seven vignettes depicting what goes on in the minds of seven members of a support group for HIV-positive people.

Excerpts from the play were produced for freshman orientation at CalArts as part of the school’s AIDS education effort.

Other IDEAS productions and art exhibits will be showcased at various sites in Los Angeles in October.

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“IDEAS is real serious about being perceived as a professional artists’ association producing marketable works,” Fletcher said. “It’s also a place for people to get hands-on, practical experience--in everything from building sets to hauling them around, doing box office, making phone calls or designing costumes.”

For more information on volunteering at IDEAS, contact Fletcher at (818) 386-1803 or the Volunteer Center of the San Fernando Valley at (818) 908-5066.

Other volunteer opportunities:

To volunteer as an actor in mock trials at the UCLA School of Law, call Bunny Friedman at (310) 206-1193. The phone number published in last week’s Getting Involved column was incorrect.

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The volunteer services department at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys needs help in its escort service, in which volunteers assist patients in wheelchairs, run errands and help with other non-clinical areas of the hospital. Training in hospital procedures and policies is provided. Contact volunteer director Anne Fastiggi at (818) 902-2932 for an appointment.

Burbank’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program seeks volunteers age 60 and over to answer phones and greet people at the Burbank Recycling Center. Some clerical work is available. Volunteers are also needed to answer phones and handle light clerical duties at the Water Conservation Desk of the city of Burbank’s Public Service Department. For more information, contact Dee Call at (818) 953-9503.

Getting Involved is a weekly listing of volunteering opportunities. Please address prospective listings to Getting Involved, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, 91311. Or fax them to (818-772-3338).


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