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Key West’s Miss Firecracker Pageant Raises $6,500 for AIDS Help

by Steven  Skelley
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Jul 8, 2012

With drag artists galore, the 2012 Miss Firecracker Pageant in Key West proved once again that under those campy outfits beat hearts of gold that want nothing more than to see a cure for everyone suffering from HIV/AIDS. This year, the pageant raised $6,489 for AIDS Help.

"It's a great amount of money and it was a lot of fun. We like to do it for the community, and they always respond very generously to us," said Joe Pais, executive director of AIDS Help.

The 2012 Miss Firecracker Pageant was held in La Te Da's upstairs Crystal Room on Duval Street, produced by Smyrna Emphezema, and hosted by Just Whitney and Mark Watson. In addition to a special 10th anniversary tribute to former Miss Firecracker, Kitty Kazwell, the event featured a special performance from reigning queen Connie Madison.

By the end of the evening, drag performer Deja was crowned the winner of the 2012 Miss Firecracker Pageant. She wowed the audience with a song and dance routine of "He Lives In You" from "The Lion King."

Miss Congeniality was awarded to Sandy Bottoms. Other highlights at the sold-out event were a knockout performance by Ft. Lauderdale's Crystal Chandalier, dance moves by Formica Dinette, and a hot salsa beat courtesy of Brown Sugar.

Since 1994, the Miss Firecracker Pageant has been an annual Key West fundraising gala for AIDS Help, a nonprofit HIV/AIDS Service organization that has been serving Key West and the Florida Keys since 1986. AIDS Help provides case-managed health care, affordable housing, housing assistance, food, counseling, referral and support services for HIV-infected residents of the Florida Keys.

"The agency was established during the real crisis concerning AIDS, and since that time we’ve been out front in the community raising money to keep our doors open," said Pais. "We have 326 clients, and our fundraising base is very limited, because there are no big businesses or foundations on this little island, 90 miles from Cuba. We rely on the citizens of Key West to help us out, and to help their friends and neighbors with HIV."

Pais said that AIDS Help holds a number of fundraisers throughout the year, which the community generously supports.

"When you take the total for the whole community, we are raising 19 cents per capita in the city, which is a pretty good amount of money. I’m proud to say that’s probably a record for people of the U.S.; for any one community it is usually less than a penny per capita," said Pais. "Our community base is 25,500 people. They come out and support us, and we love them for it."

The pageant featured a Silent Auction fundraiser which included Anne Koplik jewelry identical to that worn on "Dancing With The Stars;" a ruby-and-diamond earring, a Pacific Jewelry pendant and bracelet set with a retail value of $750, a Pottery By Grace ceramic piece, a homemade Queen-size quilt by Reston VA artisan Cecile Kohrs-Lindell with a retail value $1,300, an original 18 x 36 artwork called "Portia" by Joy Gallery and artist Steve Tracey with a retail value of $1,800, three matted photos by CJ Groth, and a Melanie Griffith print.

The festivities also included the presentation of the Ronda Riviera Humanitarian award. The award was named after the late Ron Wright (2001 Miss Firecracker). The 2012 Ronda Riviera Humanitarian of the Year Award was presented to Nancy Mayhew.

AIDS Help Educator Rodney Ross said that AIDS Help tries to be realistic in surpassing each year’s goals but also sensitive to the fact that Key West is a small community that can suffer from fundraiser fatigue.

"As federal, state and county dollars continue to dwindle, we rely more and more on fundraisers to fill the gap," said Ross. "Our goal and mission at AIDS Help is to continue to provide clients living with HIV/AIDS access to medical and pharmaceutical care, housing, nutrition and a life without stigma."

"The Miss Firecracker Pageant has raised over $9,000 to date with AIDS Help as its main recipient," added Terry Paulson of the AIDS Help fundraising committee.

All funds raised by AIDS Help in Monroe County stay in Monroe County. The AIDS Help website lists a variety of fundraising campaigns in addition to the Miss Firecracker Pageant including the King and Queen of Fantasy Fest, Taste of Key West, The Vintners’ Dinner, The SMART Ride, Annual Art Auction, Antonia’s Angel Dinner, Michaels’ Red Ribbon Affair, Café Solé Brunch, Tree of Hope, Share the Wreath, The Royal Tea, The Red Ribbon Bed Race, Miss Closet Ball, Miss Firecracker, Bottlecap Fundraiser, Blue Party at Sheraton Suites, Royal Order of Queens & Kings Ball and Monte Carlo Night.

To assist those with HIV/AIDS, AIDS Help partnered with the City of Key West and the Key West Housing Authority in the construction of 50 units of affordable housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. The city transferred ownership of 1.25 acres of land at Poinciana Plaza to the Key West Housing Authority. That land was then leased by AHI.

With a structured lease AHI was able to enter into a Tax Credit relationship through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), which funded the construction of the Poinciana Royale housing complex of up to 50 independent living units.

AIDS Help is located at 1434 Kennedy Drive, Key West, FL 33040. For more info call 305-296-6196 or visit

Steven Skelley is a published author of several nonfiction works and the novella The Gargoyle Scrolls. He has been a newspaper columnist, travel writer, news writer, music director, creative arts director, theater reviewer and tennis instructor.


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