North Lawndale Campus. Photo courtesy EdgeAlliance
Stability and innovation are key when it comes to building alliances. EdgeAlliance, a Chicago-based nonprofit, has become expert in both aspects over the years—consistent and reliable, but unafraid to evolve when necessary.

Founded in 1992 as AIDSCare to provide housing and services for men and women dying of AIDS, the nonprofit became EdgeAlliance in 2009 as its mission’s embrace widened to include individuals with disabilities and military veterans, as well as individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS.

Located in areas where the need is most, EdgeAlliance housing offers eco-friendly, ADA-compliant living spaces that are tailored to the diverse needs of its clients and are integral parts of the surrounding community. Indeed, clients are encouraged to become active members of the community. The well-built and attractive permanent housing stands on EdgeAlliance’s North Lawndale Campus, spanning a city block. The campus includes Sawyer Gardens, Garden View, The Phoenix House, and the soon-to-open The Liberty. EdgeAlliance offers progressive services, such as case management, counseling, afterschool programs and life skills workshops. The services aim to help clients to strengthen their self-determination and personal development as they re-establish their independence and become advocates for themselves.

A sense of stability is threaded through EdgeAlliance’s special events, as well. Chicago’s 19th Annual Dining Out for Life, presented by EdgeAlliance and benefiting its HIV/AIDS-focused alliance members, is set to take place on Thursday, April 26. Dining Out for Life is North America’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraising and awareness event. It enlists local restaurants, who donate a percentage of a single day’s sales to sponsoring organizations. It has grown to sixty cities across the U.S., Canada, and Nigeria.

Unlike most benefits, which bring attendees to one giant dinner (like EdgeAlliance’s upcoming twentieth-anniversary gala), Dining Out for Life finds its unique strength in a plethora of menus and venues.

“The one difference I would say that makes Dining Out for Life so special is the reach that it has. It truly is a community-based event,” says Eric Pomajzl, EdgeAlliance’s Manager of Community and Special Events. “I think that that’s what differentiates Dining Out for Life from a lot of other events—we cross different boundaries. It’s not restricted to just downtown; it’s going into different neighborhoods. We have restaurants in the suburbs. It reaches so many different types of people, so many demographics. And literally so many different spots—something like over twenty different neighborhoods throughout Chicago.”

And of course the diversity includes formal and casual dining, and different types of cuisine—Mediterranean, Asian, Mexican, and the list goes on. Last year’s event raised over $125,000 for EdgeAlliance’s services thanks to more than 7,500 diners at eighty-five restaurants.

Not only do many of the restaurants re-up year after year, but hungry diners come back for seconds and thirds. “We do have a lot of repeat diners, but

Dining Out for Life. Photo courtesy EdgeAlliance
fortunately every year there’s different people in town so we build upon the returning diners and we always get new ones as well,” says Pomajzl.

Information about AIDS and EdgeAlliance services is available at the restaurants, but the mission and accomplishments of Dining Out for Life and EdgeAlliance are brought to life by Volunteer Ambassadors. “They tell the diners, if they don’t already know, what the event is, who we are, what EdgeAlliance does, how the restaurant is helping. So the Volunteer Ambassadors play a crucial role in this event because, not only do they encourage people to give extra monetary contributions, they also are the face of EdgeAlliance and can let people know who we are, who we serve, how long we’ve been around, and why we’re doing what we’re doing right now.” Volunteer Ambassadors can be a single individual, two friends or a student or social group, like the Windy City Cowboys, a gay country and western performance group who will entertain at the restaurant that they visit. The good will brought by the Volunteer Ambassadors “makes the evening that much more like a party,” says Pomajzl. “It’s a really loving environment.”

The eat, drink and be merry vibe of Dining Out for Life resonates with one of the needs that EdgeAlliance provides for— the need to nurture ourselves and others with food and companionship. “A lot of people who live on our North Lawndale Campus were homeless as well as living with HIV/AIDS. When you’re homeless, not only do you not have a home but you don’t get to eat. You’re struggling to make ends meet or how you’re going to get your next meal,” says Pomajzl. Dining Out for Life takes advantage of those of us who do know where our next meal is coming from. And if you are not used to splurging on yourself, consider that you are splurging on those who need services. “You’re helping if you order big. Ordering an appetizer, a drink and dessert is helping those people who need the help even more. It’s something we all do—we all eat, so why not go out, bring your friends, go to a restaurant and help others who are unable to eat as easily as you are?”

For all of its steadfast reliability, EdgeAlliance is continually trying to improve on services and address new needs in the community.

A recently launched program provides clients with access to technology. “One of the things we’ve done with the help of Google and One Economy was to give a lot of our residents free Internet access as well as laptops that they can use to help get them out into the work world,” explains Pomajzl. “Google gave us forty laptops and One Economy made our North Lawndale Campus a WiFi hotspot, so no matter where you are you can always use one of those laptops to go on-line, look for a job, look for other resources to help you. In addition to our case managers and mental health support that we give, we’ve now also added a technology benefit so that clients can also search out answers for themselves. They’re a little more self-sufficient. And in doing that they’re continuing to build on the life managing skills that we’re helping them to learn. They’re able to help themselves a little more.”

EdgeAlliance has also responded to a longstanding gap of service—veterans who are homeless. With the end of the war, says Pomajzl, they expect an uptick in the need for services. “We’ve acquired a building and it is being renovated right now by Designs for Dignity,” says Pomajzl about Alpha House. “They are redoing the greystone and I think we’re going to have seven or eight different apartments.”

For more information, log on to www.edgealliance.org.