When the San Antonio AIDS Foundation (SAAF) was founded in 1986, it was a small operation, run by volunteers in the back of a local bar. The AIDS epidemic was at its height. Created as a response to this crisis, the organization, at the time, focused mainly on hospice care.
“In 1986-1987, I went to 12 funerals in 18 months,” said Alan Beckstead, a former SAAF board member.
Though modern medical breakthroughs have lessened the impact of AIDS, the spread of HIV is still an epidemic — especially in San Antonio, where infections are on the rise. But since those early days as a seven-client organization, SAAF has grown into a full-service HIV/AIDS facility that serves more than 1,200 HIV-positive community members annually and reaches more than 25,000 people each year through their testing and prevention services.
“SAAF was the first organization in San Antonio to support the HIV/AIDS community at the height of the disease. There was no one else,” said Regina Villalobos-Perez, marketing director at SAAF. “And today, SAAF services have grown from skilled nursing and hospice to include hot meals, case management, prevention education, HIV and other STD testing, and transitional housing, to name just a few services.”
As the organization grows, so have fundraising efforts and community support. In fact, one of SAAF’s most well-known events, WEBB Party, actually began as a community event hosted by friends of SAAF. The story goes like this — in 1993, a group of friends decided to throw a Fiesta kick-off party to benefit SAAF. In 1995, SAAF took over the planning and WEBB Party, as it’s known today, was born.
Some community members have slightly different versions of the story. Michael Bobo, one of WEBB Party’s founding hosts, says that the idea for WEBB Party was born at a chili cook-off party. Inspired by Austin’s Octopus Club, an organization that raises money for the Paul Kirby AIDS Emergency Fund through regular events and parties, attendees of the chili cook-off decided to do something similar and party for a purpose. According to Bobo, the first WEBB Party benefiting SAAF was held in April 1993.
The details of WEBB’s beginnings may be fuzzy, but the popularity and impact of the event is clear. Each year, WEBB Party attracts upwards of 1,500 partygoers, and with 100% of proceeds going back to SAAF, the event raises a significant amount of money for the organization. In spite of the event’s changes, the purpose has remained the same throughout its 22 years.
“I have pretty much been involved with the WEBB Party since its inception when it was a fundraiser outside of SAAF,” said David Ewell, SAAF’s executive director. “It was always a benefit for SAAF.”
Other aspects of the event have remained constant as well. WEBB Party has traditionally featured a cuisine tasting, and well-stocked bars — and it’s all included in the ticket price. According to Beckstead, it’s been that way from the start.
“The first WEBB party I attended was totally run by the original founders and had no SAAF involvement,” Beckstead recalled. “I was amazed at the fact they had an open bar, food, silent auction for the price they charged and made any money. That’s when I learned about the hosts that, in essence, underwrote the cost.”
WEBB Party hosts — now known as VIPs — are community supporters who, in addition to sponsoring the event, also helped plan and put on the event in WEBB Party’s early years.
Beckstead, who served on the WEBB Party decoration committee for five years, credits the success of the event to those supporters. “We had a great group of artist and entertainers involved,” he said. “It was a lot of work but the nights were magical.”
Though SAAF took over the planning of WEBB Party in 1995, community support is still a large part of WEBB Party’s success. VIPs are still a major source of funding for the event and the planning committee is mostly made up of community members who want to see the event thrive.
“WEBB Party would not be what it is today if not for the waves of people who have been involved with WEBB Party,” said Villalobos-Perez. “The event has morphed over the years, with each planning group bringing something unique to the table.”
Another large part of the event’s success has been its status as an official Fiesta event, which it earned in 2005. This year’s WEBB Party, which will take place on Friday, April 17, from 7:30 p.m.-midnight at Lambermont Events, will honor the fundraiser’s 10 years as an official Fiesta event, with its “¡Última Fiesta!” theme.
But with the celebration of tradition comes acknowledgement of change — WEBB Party’s 10th year as an official Fiesta event will be its last, as the event is set to become a Halloween-themed fall event in 2016.
Though some may see it as a big change, it’s nothing WEBB Party hasn’t experienced before. “We changed WEBB Party from an event mixer/silent auction to the amplified ‘party’ feel guests experience today,” said Villalobos-Perez. “It’s exciting to see how far WEBB Party has come and, also, looking back, you begin to feel a sense of pride.”
Though both SAAF and WEBB Party have experienced growth and change over the years, the goal has always been the same.
“WEBB Party exists to support the services offered by SAAF,” said Villalobos-Perez. “It’s a great event and we love the growing popularity, but at the end of the day, it’s SAAF services that matter most.”
WEBB Party tickets are $85 pre-sale or $100 at the door. VIP packages are available from $175 and include special parking accommodations, early entry, access to exclusive bars and event sections, custom Fiesta medals, and an assortment of other luxury treatments. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.WEBBparty.net.
*Featured/top image: Drag queen Sweet Savage wowed the crowd at WEBB Party 2014. Photo by JPL Productions.