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AIDS Services Foundation founders resign from board

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Al Roberts and Ken Jillson cut their ties this week to the AIDS Services Foundation (ASF), which they created in the mid-1980s to help folks cope with effects of the pandemic that was taking the lives of so many of their friends. 

Roberts and Jillson announced their resignations in letters made public this week, before leaving on a trip. They stated that changes in the Foundation’s mission and leadership have rendered their participation untenable. Both men asked to have their names removed immediately from all website and marketing materials. 

“Sadly, I guess it’s my turn to formally resign as a thirty-two year ASF volunteer since ASF is no more,” wrote Roberts. 

Jillson’s letter explicitly explained the reasons the pair felt impelled to resign. 

Roberts and Jillson explain the reasons for their resignation

“Unfortunately, in the last few years, some board presidents and executive committees have unwisely allowed the executive director to have free rein with minimal accountability and oversight and make poorly-judged hiring and firing decisions with sometimes disastrous results,” wrote Jillson. 

“Jumping the gun and rebranding the agency, opening a medical clinic to supposedly serve the LGBT community of Orange County, and erasing the extraordinary history of ASF is a prime example. Several people have called this decision simply job preservation. 

“I’m all for moving forward with progress when future plans are well thought out, input is taken and listened to from all stakeholders, and then cautiously and carefully executed. 

“Unfortunately, I can no longer be associated with mediocre, self-serving management and that is the basis for my resignation. ASF’s original clear vision and mission was about helping its clients. Period.”

Response from Radiant Health Centers

Stu News sought a response from Radiant Health Centers, the new name for the AIDS Services Foundation, and received this statement moments after deadline:  “Our community, clients and everyone at our agency – including the staff, volunteers, and fellow board members – are so appreciative of Al and Ken,” wrote Mark Gonzales, vice president of the board of directors of Radiant Health Centers.

“We are eternally grateful for their courage, vision and valiant effort over the years and stand ready to continue their work to end the AIDS epidemic in Orange County.” 

History of the Foundation

The Foundation was created in a Laguna Beach home in the fall of 1985. AIDS was scary, mysterious and deadly. It was not a popular cause to support in those days. Raising money was difficult in the shadow of the stigma of the times, Roberts recalled.  

They found a way and raised millions of dollars through the iconic “Splash,” a backyard musical spoof set around the pool of their Arch Beach Heights home, produced and acted in by Jillson. The show featured the hairy Aquanettes’ not-exactly-precision swim team a la Esther Williams, and celebrity voice-overs. 

Project Runway finalist Mondo Guerra comments on Elizabeth Taylor’s fashion prowess as Ken Jillson, ASF co-founder listens intently at a fundraiser in 2011

Roberts and Jillson were also instrumental, with the help of Dr. Arnie Klein, in bringing Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson to Laguna for a joint fundraiser for the Laguna Art Museum and the Foundation. 

“It has been an enormously rewarding experience to be part of a group starting a Foundation from the ground up, nurturing it and watching it grow, and now come to a close knowing that we all did a great job and made a difference for our clients,” wrote Roberts.

Neither mentioned their own contributions, which earned them recognition as they were awarded Laguna Beach Seniors Legacy Award in 2010 and participated as the Grand Marshals of the Patriots Day Parade in 2011.

Roberts and Jillson are not looking back, nor resting on their laurels.  

“There are many worthwhile charities in Orange County that Ken and I will continue to support and volunteer for including the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach Susie Q Senior Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, the Center O.C., and Men Alive – The Gay Men’s Chorus.

“The future is bright. As one chapter comes to a close, many new and exciting volunteer chapters begin.” 

Lucky Laguna. 

Both men praised donors, volunteers and dedicated staff who worked diligently to better the lives of folks impacted by HIV/AIDs.

Jillson said those were the people who made his 32 years with the Foundation an incredible, magical experience, one he will always cherish.