Fight for Your White to Party

White Party Week is one of the nation's biggest AIDS fundraisers and wildest bashes -- a problem or a godsend, depending on whom you ask

Also, inexplicably, the staff missed a critical deadline to submit a grant application. Executive director Marc Lichtman quit in disgust; a month later HCN laid off a dozen people, citing major funding shortfalls.

Enter Community Research Initiative. Rick Siclari, the clinical-trial group's executive director, initiated merger talks with the troubled HCN. CRI, while smaller, was far more stable financially than the social-services nonprofit. It also had earned a national reputation by proving the efficacy of two of the protease-inhibitor drugs now used as part of the so-called cocktail of AIDS medications. In April 1998 the two groups became one. Shortly thereafter the combined entity was dubbed Care Resource, with Siclari as its executive director.

But White Party waits for no one, as Siclari and Lark Bennett found out. "That was a difficult year to pull off [White Party and AIDS Walk]," Siclari notes. "We were still in the throes of changing our forms, procedures, policies, letterhead; this thing is discontinued, that license needs to be renewed, the mountain of paperwork." He pauses. "That's not a place I want to go back to anytime soon. It was very hard on us.

Muscle Beach was a party with a purpose  --  and pecs
Muscle Beach was a party with a purpose -- and pecs
Vizcaya hosted some 2500 white-clad revelers and volunteers, some more elaborately outfitted  than others
Ted B. Kissell
Vizcaya hosted some 2500 white-clad revelers and volunteers, some more elaborately outfitted than others

"The financial difficulties at HCN were a concern, but the result is truly a classic business success story," Siclari adds. He asserts that the merged organization has maintained all of the counseling, outreach, and social-services programs of the former HCN, the clinical-trial services of the former CRI, and has added "four or five" new services. "Our staff and volunteers are now a much more cohesive group."

White Party Week 1998 netted about $500,000 for Care Resource. That was less than in the 1997, but the combined group's greater solvency allowed it to weather the drop. The group aimed for bigger and better in 1999. "This time we had a little more time to breathe, so that allowed us, in our second year, to enhance some events and to think about new ones rather than just maintaining what was there before," Siclari says. At press time the tentative total from this year, less expenses, is close to $550,000.

Berrebi, who was on the board of directors of HCN at the time of the merger, declares the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. "Some people had been deeply disappointed with the limits of the service HCN could provide," he says. While HCN offered counseling and support, it didn't have doctors who could write prescriptions for AIDS medications, or give primary health care to AIDS patients. The focus of CRI was even narrower. The combined entity, he says, can provide it all. At the time of the merger, HCN had 91 employees and CRI had 13. Care Resource currently employs 73 people, who directly serve some 1400 clinical and psychological clients.

"It was a huge change, and many staff didn't survive it," Siclari allows. "We tried to be good about it, and if people decided that they couldn't do it, it's okay to say it's time to move on. We did have a lot of turnover."

For those who forget to bring their sunscreen to the beach at Twelfth Street, the Ozmoziz table inside the cyclone-fence perimeter of Friday's Muscle Beach Party is a godsend. On the folding table is a pair of gallon bottles with pumps on top, the kind that dispense mustard and ketchup at ballgames. Except these contain SPF 4 and SPF 15, respectively. All free, all you need.

Turns out to be quite an icebreaker, too. "My name's Steve," says a muscular man with short black hair and a silver hoop earring in each ear. "Mike," says the slimmer, flaxen-haired man next to him. They shake hands, then partake of the free sunscreen. "You need me to get your back?" Steve queries.

It's barely 2:00 p.m. and the party's scheduled to run till sundown. The early birds are here though, to be found mostly on the elevated stage on the ocean side of the area, grooving to a heavy house beat that reverberates off the façade of the Victor Hotel. They are largely shirtless, largely large, 99 percent male. One shortish fellow with a linebacker's build stands among the serried blue banners planted in the hard-packed sand, twirling his own pair of flags in time to the music. Among the sea of white sand and faces, a cluster of black women in white baseball caps and T-shirts, employees of Care Resource, pass out condoms and safer-sex literature.

Wally Mahar, a lean Miami Beach resident in his early thirties with wavy hair and a hoop through his left nipple, surveys the growing crowd through his thin-rimmed sunglasses. He's a volunteer for this event and half-jokingly laments he'll also be working at the White Party itself, cleaning up Vizcaya afterward. But at Snowball later tonight, he'll be off-duty.

"White Party got some bad press last year because the DJs at Snowball were so bad," he recalls. "The sound was horrible, and the DJ got to the point where he was just spinning for himself and not responding to what the crowd wanted to hear. Nobody liked it." He's curious about Boy George, who is spinning at this year's Snowball. He also agrees with the conventional wisdom that this "sanctioned" event, with its thousands of shirtless men packed into a convention hall, feels the most like a circuit party, because of the music and the drugs. In his experience the drug use is "no more than you'd see at a typical club."

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