By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FERNDALE – Three back surgeries and a slowly-healing right leg later, Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center Executive Director Leslie Thompson is temporarily down, but she’s not out.
She is worried, though, about keeping the money coming in to the Center while she’s not there to help raise it herself.
Thompson first had surgery on her back on May 15. She and the Affirmations board were able to plan for that – but not for complications that led to her having additional surgeries on May 25 and June 19. On July 7, Thompson told BTL that her doctor had given her permission to work a few hours per week beginning the week of July 10, but she won’t be back full-time until mid-August at the earliest.
“There’s no place at work to lay down. I have to lay down a lot,” Thompson said.
“I love my work and it scares me to not be there to help,” said Thompson, who added that this year is her organization’s most challenging fundraising year to date. In addition to building their new center, the organization needs to raise $1 million this year to cover day-to-day operating costs.
According to Thompson, the community can’t count on corporations or grants to cover those costs.
“Our biggest portion of money comes from individual gifts. People think it’s corporations and grants, but that’s not accurate,” she said. “There are two staff people at Affirmations that are dedicated to doing that work, [and] I am one of them. So it [her absence] has a huge impact,” on the center’s ability to raise funds.
“Leslie is one of our principle fundraisers, and so we are obviously missing her energy and her time and efforts,” said Affirmations Board of Directors President Ken Rosen. “Certainly not having her there has not put us into a money crisis, but other people have had to step up and focus on fundraising, which has diverted some of their attention from their other regular daily activities … like the programming, grant writing and all of the other types of things that we do.”
“We knew it was going to be the most incredibly challenging year we could have,” Thompson said. “We always joked about me being hit by a bus, but this came out of nowhere.”
In an attempt to make up for the work that Thompson can’t do herself, Affirmations has started a “Get Well, Leslie!” campaign. The campaign is explained in the organization’s quarterly newsletter in the place normally reserved for Thompson’s usual letter to supporters:
“Want to send flowers to Leslie? Not a good idea,” the newsletter says. “A card? Think again. Candy? Don’t do it! Send a check to Affirmations with ‘Get Well , Leslie!’ written in the memo line instead. We’ll keep track of the checks here at the Center and let her know you made the donation. This will do more to aid her recovery than physical therapy, occupational therapy, exercise and painkillers combined (okay, there might be a slight exaggeration in there somewhere).”
“So many people are sending flowers,” she said. That’s a lovely thought, it’s wonderful that people are thinking of me, but we’d rather have them send a check to Affirmations.”
Thompson, who in addition to her busy work schedule is also a stand-up comedian, said of the unexpected surgeries and slow recovery, “It’s been very difficult emotionally – it’s actually like I’m held captive. I wasn’t at Pride Fest, I’m not going to be at Hotter Than July! and that’s very difficult for me.”
Obviously, the unexpected illness has had an affect on her home life as well. “I just got married in January,” Thompson said. “One third of my married life has been my wife [Colleen Hamlin] having to take care of me. Although she’s been wonderful, it’s not what we had planned.”