The Richmond/Ermet AIDS
Foundation (REAF) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) Arts/AIDS organization dedicated
to raising funds for AIDS service organizations in the Bay Area through
the production of quality entertainment programs. REAF was founded by
two mothers, Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet, who lost their only sons
to AIDS as a way to honor their sons memories and help alleviate
the suffering of all the other sons and daughters living with HIV and
AIDS. REAF began as a wholly volunteer-run agency, partnering with a single
agency to produce a fundraising event called "Help is on the Way:
San Francisco Cares." Today, REAF is still relies on a mostly volunteer
Board and staff. "Help is on the Way" has become the Bay Areas
largest annual AIDS benefit concert and one of the Bay Areas primary
sources of funding for many local AIDS service agencies. REAF has also
expanded their partnership services to include ten agencies this year
and focuses not only on raising funds but also on creating public awareness
that the AIDS epidemic is not yet over and that many agencies are struggling
to survive. REAF strives to create community alliances to support these
agencies on multiple levels. Overall, beneficiary agencies that have partnered
with REAF have reported increased overall giving levels, both financial
and in-kind, through increased exposure to media, corporations and individual
donors. Volunteerism to their agencies is also increased. REAF strives
to build teamwork and cooperation among benefiting agencies through these
Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet were life-long friends. In fact their mothers were friends before they were born. Their lives wound in and out of each others as they grew up, got married, moved away, moved back and so on. Both mothers have suffered the hardest ordeal a mother can imagine in losing their only sons to AIDS. Barbara thought her world would end when her son John died.
Since Barbaras divorce, and her married daughters move down the Peninsula to raise her family, John had been the light and major focus of her life. John and his friends had always included her in their lives, often dropping by for impromptu dinners and visits, to just hang out, or to take her out to various events. There were many such events because John was very active in the San Francisco entertainment community designing and building sets and costumes for many venues. He had also used his magic touch in helping Barbara decorate her own home. Barbara often described their relationship as not just mother and son but as soul mates.
When John was diagnosed with AIDS Barbara was astounded. How could this terrible disease touch her wonderful, beautiful son. His courage, however, in living with the disease, gave her pride. He was determined to live his life as normally as possible. And, toward the end, when she looked at John and saw the way the disease had transformed her once handsome boy into a shadow of his former self, covered with KS lesions, and watched him suffer a long,agonizing death, it was his courage that kept her going.
After Johns death, Barbara was severely depressed. When some of Johns friends, who were local entertainers, came by to share her grief, she looked at them and asked, So what are you going to do for your friend John? Their answer was to put on an AIDS benefit, in Johns honor, to benefit Visiting Nurses and Hospice of San Francisco, the agency that helped Barbara care for John during those dark days. That event, which included many of San Franciscos most prominent entertainers and held at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, helped Barbara pull out of her depression. And the love and care shown by Barbara and Johns friends gave her hope. One of these caring friends was her current roommate and life-long friend, Peggy Ermet.
Deb & Dillon Scheer:
When HIV+ newborns and children were infected with HIV back in the 1980's and whose mothers were too ill to care for them, they were left to die in our hospitals. Many extended family members and foster parents wouldn't bring these little ones home for fear of spreading the infection to their families. Some couldn't/wouldn't do it because back then HIV was a death sentence, and they couldn't cope.
Appalled and knowing HIV didn't spread through family type contact, I became a foster parent especially for infants with HIV. It broke my heart thinking about babies laying there and dying without love and without anyone fighting for them.
Dillon has matured in a wonderful young man, now in his 20s and still living wiht AIDS. He and Deb have relocated out of the Bay Area but stay in touch and express their gratitude for the support they received from Bay Area agencies while living here.
A few years later, when Peggys own son, Doug, who had also been HIV positive for quite a few years, began to show more serious symptoms, Barbara was the one who had to play the role of comforter. It was painful to see her best friend, who had been her rock, suffer as she had as Dougs health slipped away.
Although Dougs death was not as painful as Johns, it was no less difficult for the mothers to bear. Like John, Doug was Peggys only son and had become the center of Peggys life after her husband passed away some years before. But in death, Peggy, too, took heart in seeing how well loved her son had been, and how deeply he had touched so many other peoples lives.
As vice president of Employee Communications at Charles Schwab & Co., Dougs life path had taken a different direction than Johns, but they crossed often as Doug loved the local cabaret and entertainment scene and admired the talent that abounded in the Bay Area. He could frequently be found wherever that talent emerged. He also had tremendous respect and admiration for Johns behind-the-scenes talents. An accomplished Emmy nominated video producer and writer, Doug considered himself a behind-the-scenes kind of guy as well.
These two mothers decided to commit the remainder of their lives to fighting this epidemic,and enlisted many of their and their sons friends to help in this endeavor. For this purpose, The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation was created, whos mission is to produce quality entertainment events, with the proceeds to benefit local AIDS organizations. The first of these events, a musical variety show titled Help is on the Way: San Francisco Cares!, was held on May 15, 1995 at The Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco, and was a complete sell out. Subsesquent productions of Help is on the Way, as well as other programs the foundation created continued to play to full houses and have featured stars from Broadway, film and television as well as San Franciscos own brightest stars.
Peggy passed away in December of 1999 before her dream that a cure for this terrible disease would be found in her lifetime. Barbara passed away peacefully in early January of 2014, content that she would be reunited with her son John. Their spirits are still with us, however, as we continue the fight in their honor. We miss you Peggy and Barbara.
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