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‘Over the Rainbow: Broadway With a Twist’ fundraiser planned

SALISBURY — Salisbury Pride will present an evening of songs to raise money for its youth and education programs and those living with HIV/AIDS.

“Over the Rainbow: Broadway With a Twist” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Norvell Theater, 135 E. Fisher St. The show will feature local and regional performers singing Broadway songs in nontraditional gender roles. The twist is that a role traditionally performed by a woman will be performed by a man.

The idea came about after the Salisbury Pride board was tasked with creating a fundraiser for its youth and education programs, explained board President Tim Coffey. Board members wondered if the organization could take it a step further and help others.

Coffey inquired about those in the community living with HIV/AIDS and was told the biggest struggle they face is often choosing between medication and paying for gas or a utility bill.

Patients of Dr. Abayomi Agbebi, who is an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, tell him they can’t receive treatment if it means traveling outside the county because they don’t have the money for gas to get them there.

The Novant Health Foundation has funds that are earmarked by donors to be used for a specific initiative. Restricted funds have been established to provide free mammograms for women who can’t afford them or to cover rehabilitation costs for cardiac patients.

No fund existed, until now, to help patients with HIV/AIDS so they can continue taking life-extending medications.

Coffey said he was surprised by the number of people in the community living with HIV/AIDS and even more surprised that they have to choose between continuing daily medications and other expenses.

He said Salisbury Pride wanted to help people locally in an impactful way.

Other communities sponsor similar types of musical fundraisers with gender-bending performers.

“They’ve set the mold with the concept of reversing the gender of the singer for popular Broadway songs. It offers a different interpretation and a chance to touch people in a different way,” Coffey said.

He said there is such a good theater community here that Pride was able to tap into and build on the idea.

Coffey said he’s grateful for the help of music director Caroline Stephenson and pianist Matthew Michael Brown. Former Miss North Carolina Hailey Best, who now lives in New York City where she works as an actress and singer, will emcee the show and perform.

“I think the biggest thing for us is, it’s about treatment,” said Dr. Agbebi. “There’s so many good treatments, and life expectancy is into the 70s. If we can get them to treatment, they can live normal lives.”

He said HIV has evolved. Decades ago, it was thought of as a disease that affected the gay community and minorities, but HIV has a different face now. It touches all demographics and crosses socioeconomic statuses.

Agbebi said he has patients in their 20s and in their 70s and in every professional class.

“Whatever people think HIV looks like, it’s very likely they may have a family member or friend and they just don’t know,” Agbebi said.

If patients take treatments, they can live a normal life, but what patients sometimes find the most difficult is transportation or housing.

Sometimes patients can go to a clinic to get regular lab tests and having a restricted fund to offset their costs allows them to get support services.

“We are trying to get those obstacles out of the way,” Agbebi said.

He said it is his hope that the fundraiser will raise awareness and motivate people to get tested.

“Fifty percent of people with HIV don’t know they have HIV. Treatment is there. If you can get on treatment, it works,” he said.

The restricted fund that is being established will “help individuals to not be forced to decide between food and medication. We believe an individual should and needs to put food on their table. We are here to make sure they get the health care they need,” said Rick Parker, executive director of the Novant Health Foundation.

“Think about having a utility bill or gas for your vehicle. But you get behind on payments or don’t have enough money but you dip into your money for medical bills. With a referral, this will help them make ends meet so their health can stay on track and they can stay healthy,” Parker said.

“There’s a need, and we try to find out how we can help meet that need,” Parker said.

Tickets for the show are $25 and can be purchased online at www.salisburypride.com.

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