For the past five years, around the time of AIDS Walk Los Angeles every October people who live near or drive by Paramount Pictures on Melrose may have noticed a red AIDS-awareness ribbon posted on the studio’s gate. The ribbon is a well-known symbol of support for people living with HIV and AIDS…but for the studio, it turns out, the commitment is not just symbolic. In fact, HIV/AIDS is one of four major charitable causes the studio supports at the corporate level (along with the environment, education and volunteerism), and that support goes back more than 30 years, to the mid-1980s and the very first AIDS Walk Los Angeles.
In 1985, just three days before AIDS Project Los Angeles held the first-ever AIDS Walk, actor Rock Hudson announced he had been diagnosed with AIDS. Organizers of the upcoming walk were hoping to raise $100,000 from their inaugural event, but in the wake of Hudson’s announcement, the first AIDS Walk LA – which had its official starting point at Paramount Pictures – raised close to $700,000. And since then, the annual walks have raised a total of more than $88 million for the cause…and Paramount has been involved as an official Grand Sponsor every year.
This year, AIDS Walk LA will hold its 35th annual event, on October 20, and Paramount is once again gearing up to help.
Jennifer Lynch, Paramount’s Vice President for Corporate Social Responsiblilty and Internal Communications, told the Buzz recently that Paramount recruits employees to walk in the annual event (they’ve had crews of hundreds in some years), but also works hard to raise awareness, enthusiasm and funds before the walk, and to provide in-kind, physical and logistical support of many kinds at the event itself.
Altogether, said Lynch, the studio has raised more than $300,000 for the cause in the last 30 years.
Lynch said the most prolific individual fundraiser for AIDS Walk LA at Paramount over the last three decades years has been Lee Rosenthal, President of Physical Production, who has been an honorary captain of the studio’s AIDS Walk LA team several times, and who has single-handedly raised more than $33,000 for the cause. But Rosenthal told the Buzz that hasn’t been as hard as it might sound. AIDS Project LA, he said, is “an extraordinary organization,” which “has so much value to me.” Rosenthal said he walked in some of the earliest events in the 1980s, and in the years that he’s led the studio’s AIDS Walk LA team, it wasn’t hard to energize Paramount staff members, even though he pushes hard to “raise a lot of coin.” “It’s easy to activate them,” he said.
In addition to lending its consideral support on walk day, the studio also hosts several other events in the weeks and months leading up to the walk each year, to build awareness and enthusiasm. One of these is an annual silent auction for staff, which takes place over three days each year during lunch hour. (According to Lynch, Rosenthal is also one of the biggest recruiters of premium items to be sold at the auction.)
All proceeds from the auction and the studio’s other pre-walk events – which have included drag queen bingo and Tupperware parties, a special concert by musician Moby, and a Dine for a Cause week at local restaurants – are donated to the Walk, so even employees who don’t participate in the march itself have ample opportunities to contribute.
John Sampogna, Manager of Operations and Project Labor at the studio, who also helps with the pre-walk events and support on walk day, also told the Buzz that employees are always eager to get involved. “Everyone comes out of the woodwork to support it,” he said.
If you’d like to join the cause this year, registration and donations for the 35th annual AIDS Walk LA are now open at AIDSWalkLA.org. And if you go, chances are good you’ll meet a lot of folks from Paramount along the way.