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The Laughs for Life Experience

By: Dan Ryan

Somehow, Laughs for Life always seems to sneak up on me. I spend just about the whole year thinking about it, and more than half the year planning for it. But when May rolls around, I’m invariably equal parts excited, nervous, and surprised that we’ve started counting the number of days, not months or weeks, until event day.

Despite the huge amount of work that goes into Laughs, I’ve loved the gala from the first one I attended. This might have had something to do with the fact that I love a good excuse to look fancy, which is not something San Francisco offers a whole lot of. And at Laughs I get to do that while eating delicious food and listening to standup comedy no less!

Some of you might know that our Executive Director, Eve Meyer, used to perform standup comedy (rumor has it that she still does sets around the city). And while it would be hard to convince her to come out of comedic retirement, I’m thrilled with the comedians who will be supplying the Laughs for the event.

After spending quite a few working hours watching standup routines from various bay area comics (it was grueling work, requiring intense focus and determination), we settled on three of the funniest.

Torio Van Grol is headlining the comedy acts this year, back by popular demand. I worked check in at last year’s at Laughs for Life and listened to Torio’s set from outside the ballroom. On multiple occasions I laughed so hard that I failed to notice guests patiently waiting to be checked into the event. Hopefully I can still hear the sets from my post at the Julia Morgan Ballroom, although my work might suffer as a result.

The silent auction section is a favorite of the more competitive types. I know this from personal experience, having been boxed out two different times the past two years (those SFJAZZ tickets from last year should be mine!). Stay vigilant friends, and watch out for people who might swoop in and one-up your bid during dinner.

Although it might be hard to motivate yourself to move during dinner. Chef Larry Finn, formerly the executive chef at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and Scala’s Bistro, is the culinary director at the Julia Morgan Ballroom. For you Iron Chef fans out there, Larry worked with Masaharu Morimoto at his restaurant in New York prior to his move to San Francisco. The staff who attended the pre-event tastings for the Laughs for Life menu woke up three days later from a food-induced coma. The rest of us are excited to see what all the fuss is about!

Most importantly, I’m excited to celebrate the SFSP community and the incredible effort that goes into the work that we do. Laughs for Life is a reminder that our community consists of so many more people than just our small staff and the wonderful volunteers who give their time and skills every single day. We see volunteers come in and out, and the staff members see one another all throughout the week. But it’s rare to have so many of the people who support SFSP together in one place.

Clients aren’t always in a place where they’re able to show gratitude, so to have a whole room full of people showing that they support and care deeply about the work we do is powerfully motivating. I’ve always thought of Laughs for Life as a chance to celebrate all the positivity that results from this community we’ve built.

And I’m excited to celebrate with you!

Register for 2017 Laughs for Life on May 4th at the Julia Morgan Ballroom HERE.

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Jeremy shares his path to SFSP

Maybe you are reading this because you care about your own relationship to suicidal feelings or because you have been the caretaker of others going through similar struggles. This type of energy, that caring energy, is what got this agency going and still moves us forward today. I chose to start volunteering on the SFSP HIV Nightline in late 2003 because I had been looking for a place to volunteer for sometime. I chose the HIV Nightline because I myself had contracted HIV and a friend invited me to join with him and I’m glad I did. At that time, I did not think that I would be staying with the agency for years nor did I anticipate it would lead to my career. What is nice about this process is that it was organic and so the fit felt right.

I would say I was pretty open minded and had compassion for others when I came to SFSP, but the depth of my compassion and my understanding of the diverse and unique challenges people face has certainly grown during my time here. SFSP and the wonderful environment the staff and volunteers create have allowed me to develop self compassion and self awareness to a much higher degree than before I came here. I can’t really say how long I will stay with SFSP, I guess it is until it doesn’t feel right anymore.

People can feel suicidal for so many reasons, like housing or job loss, death of a loved one or pet, or a decline in health. I too struggled with suicidal thoughts when coming out as gay and when testing positive for HIV. I lost social support and opportunities at each of those times in my life. Often times it is in enduring that emotional pain while feeling isolated that suicidal thoughts come into play. Isolation alone can become an aching pain that becomes overwhelming. For many, suicide is the mind’s escape route during that time of unbearable suffering. After knowing that pain or surviving a suicide attempt, it becomes very rewarding to provide a non-judgemental ear and be that kind soul to someone who is hurting. I know those that have contact with us feel less alone after doing so. We do that in many ways, through outreach and on our phone lines.

Another way we do this is through social media. We sometimes have exchanges with those on facebook and twitter. It doesn’t always have to be an exchange though, we feel that when someone sees one of our posts they feel a part of that same connectedness.   When I create social media content I try to think of ways to engage followers in self care activities, provide validation, raise awareness or reduce stigma. I also try to create content that is accessible to someone who may not be able to leave the house or even their bed. Depression, anxiety and other conditions can limit some people from getting outside so I sometimes will do a series of photos from a walk in a nice place. Making something accessible to someone really conveys how much you care about them. I feel we do this on social media in ways we cannot if we rely only on someone initiating contact with us.

Another way social media has been a great tool is in fundraising and being able to respond very quickly to social events. These advantages don’t come without their own challenges however. Because of the nature of our services we have to remain vigilant despite having a disclosure about our social media platform not being a crisis service. Sometimes people reach out to us on social media who are in crisis and we want to connect them to our hotline or other appropriate services.   Having a small staff means that myself and one or two other staff members keep an eye on this 24/7. We also find that our volunteer pool and former volunteers stay more connected because of facebook and other social media which is a wonderful thing!

Have you checked out our facebook and twitter yet?

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by: Jeremy Garza, Overnight Coordinator