By Benny Cartwright
Stepping Stone San Diego, a non-profit alcohol and drug recovery agency for the LGBTQ community, is hosting its annual gala celebration this month, The Pink Gala, and the organization has a lot to celebrate.
Taking place on Friday, Oct. 20, at the Broadway Pier, The Pink Gala is Stepping Stone’s signature annual fundraising event that will include dinner, drinks, entertainment, and a lot more. Plus, attendees are encouraged to don their best pink outfits!
Andrew Picard, who took over as executive director of Stepping Stone in April, following the retirement of longtime leader Cheryl Houk, said this year’s Pink Gala holds special significance as the organization celebrates 47 years of service to the LGBTQ+ community.
“This is a chance to reflect on our incredible journey, during which we’ve saved countless lives of LGBTQ+ community members struggling with addiction and in need of our health services and support,” Picard told LGBTQ San Diego County News. “In fact, Stepping Stone stands as one of the few LGBTQ+ specific addiction recovery and mental health nonprofits in the entire country, and that’s something we’re extremely proud of.”
The evening will also give supporters a chance to meet and hear from Picard who will give remarks from the stage at what will be his first Pink Gala in his new role.
“Stepping Stone’s work is saving the lives of our LGBTQ+ family members,” Picard said. “And for so many of us, we are forced to create our chosen family from within our community. This year’s Pink Gala is my first time attending, so it feels like an official welcome and incredible opportunity to connect with all the wonderful people who support Stepping Stone and who make our community so filled with love and support. It’s going to be a night filled with fun, unity, and a whole lot of pink sparkle.”
Being in the executive director role for just about six months, Picard said he sees it as a true privilege to be a gay man leading an organization with such an incredible legacy. Picard is proud to follow in the footsteps of former CEO Houk who was well-known and beloved by many throughout the LGBTQ and recovery communities. Houk served as executive directors during two separate stints which combined totalled 25 years at the helm.
Upon the announcement of Picard’s appointment last April, Houk shared her confidence in his leadership.
“Andrew Picard’s history of national coalition building and public policy thought leadership demonstrates he is a strong leader and visionary for Stepping Stone’s essential commitment to continued growth and impact for the community,” Houk said.
Picard said that his first six months on the job have been a whirlwind of “learning, passion, progress, and endless support from our incredible team, Board members, and community.”
“It’s been such a privilege to lead this organization and continue its legacy of service,” he said. “I’ve been truly humbled by the warmth, talent and dedication of our staff, supporters and the and the entire LGBTQ+ family in San Diego. We’re on an exciting path of growth and inclusion, and I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.”
Picard said that Stepping Stone has a great future ahead of it, and fundraisers like The Pink Gala are critically important tools for the organization to carry out its mission.
“Our mission has never been more crucial as we continue to provide intensive residential treatment, outpatient support, housing and sober living, mental health and therapy resources to our LGBTQ+ community,” Picard said. “The demand for our services increases and especially considering the alarming statistics in San Diego County. Last year, we witnessed over 1,400 overdose deaths in our county, highlighting the pressing issue of drug addiction. Growing our funding and growing our impact will allow us to expand our treatment beds, expand recovery facilities and programs and save more lives.”
Primarily serving the LGBTQ community, Picard said it is important that an organization like Stepping Stone exists to recognize the community’s unique challenges, especially in the recovery space.
“[Members of the LGBTQ+ community] are five times more likely to be diagnosed with substance use disorder and five times more likely to suffer from suicide,” Picard said. “This underscores the urgency of our work. As we move forward, we are committed to expanding and increasing our services to meet the needs of our community. Stepping Stone is dedicated to addressing the epidemic of addiction and mental health issues in our LGBTQ+ community and to allies alike, and we’re determined to continue saving lives and making a positive impact.”
Tickets are still available for The Pink Gala on Friday, Oct. 20 and readers are encouraged to attend and support Stepping Stone’s work. Doors will open at 5 pm and valet parking will be available. The evening will begin with a cocktail reception including hors d’oeuvres on the Broadway Pier Pato. The event will also include a full dinner and a program that will begin at 6:45 pm featuring special remarks by Senator Toni Atkins and Mayor Todd Gloria.
The event will also include a live auction, raffle prizes, opportunities to donate, and a live performance by singer Storm Large. There will also be awards presentations and special tributes.
“It’s going to be an unforgettable night, and we’d love for your readers to join us,” said Picard.
More information about The Pink Gala can be found at steppingstonesd.org/pink where tickets can be purchased along with sponsorship opportunities.
–Benny Cartwright is a longtime activist and community leader. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @BennyC80.
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