Community Impact Award
He has draped the ceiling of the Drake in yards upon yards of elegant chocolate silk. He has built shadowboxes that let partygoers dance with silhouetted illusions. He has constructed a massive tree, from which shimmering ribbons swayed.
For countless nonprofits in the LGBT, HIV/AIDS, theater and humanities communities, Thomas Kehoe’s modern-yet-classic take on party design and decoration has led to fantastical designs for their fundraising events and galas — designs he produces largely on his own dime and his own time.
His 19-year-old event decor company, Kehoe Designs, has made immeasurable in-kind donations to Chicago’s most impactful nonprofit organizations. He is driven to create an experience for attendees to reward them for their support — and encourage them to come back for future events.
After former AFC Board member John Ansehl invited him to design one of the Not Just Song and Dance galas more than 12 years ago, Kehoe knew that the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) was an organization he wanted to support in his very unique way. Since that time, he joined the AFC Board himself in 2002 and has designed a series of spectacular sets for AFC’s World of Chocolate events and spring galas.
Kehoe’s work puts AFC’s events in a strong position to raise funds and offer guests lasting, positive memories — memories that reawaken their commitment to AFC and its goal of ending new HIV infections.
“I feel like AFC has embraced my work, shown gratitude and strengthened my connection to the movement,” said Kehoe.
Lori Kaufman Volunteer Award
For over 22 years, Ernie Rodriguez has devoted significant time and energy to the HIV/AIDS movement in Chicago, Los Angeles and across the country. His passion for curbing the epidemic can be seen as he educates health professionals across the country about HIV and treatment options. He has helped shape the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC)’s Board of Directors for almost 10 years, influencing and inspiring change and action in the HIV/AIDS community.
Rodriguez’s dedication to volunteerism and selfless leadership stretches back to the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis; in 1993, he started volunteering for the AIDS Project Los Angeles, leading trainings for volunteer HIV/AIDS hotline operators and, later, treatment educators.
After moving to Chicago nine years ago, he knew he wanted to stay engaged in supporting the HIV/AIDS movement. When Rodriguez met former AFC President/CEO Mark Ishaug and learned about the organization, he knew that serving on the AFC Board would be the best use of his passion.
“I try to challenge my fellow Board members to be more aggressive in their participation in the movement,” said Rodriguez.
Today, he fulfills his desire to engage and educate medical professionals through his work as a Community Liaison for Gilead. He offers nearly 150 presentations per year to community organizations like Comprensión y Apoyo a Latinos en Oposición al Retrovirus (CALOR) to educate them on the latest treatment methods.