Agent Of Change: Cathy MacNaughton On AIDS Assistance Program And The Importance Of Giving Back


Agents of Change walk among us all the time. Look around: There's probably one of them in the same room with you right now. The neighbor who never told you that she spends several weeknights helping cancer patients at a local clinic. A teenage girl who was so concerned about how a retail giant dissed plus-size girls and woman that she organized mass protests and convinced the company to shift their ideals.

The woman who attended an HIV/AIDS-related charity event in Palm Springs 10 years ago and became so inspired by its philosophy that she spent the next decade giving back and rally her friends to become part of the cause.

Meet Cathy MacNaughton.

The longtime Bay Area resident, who now splits her time between Northern California and Coachella Valley, may have never known about AIDS Assistance Program - Food Samaritans (AAP) if it weren't for a friend/colleague who attended the organization's lavish annual Palm Springs fundraiser, Evening Under The Stars, with her. She was impressed with the gala, but, as she says, "in awe" with the organization, whose limited staff was making valiant efforts assisting locals with HIV/AIDS.

MacNaughton had a very good reason to be impressed. AAP has evolved appreciably since 1991, when the late Gloria Greene and Jeannette Rockefeller began offering meals to low-income locals living with HIV/AIDS and Evening Under the Stars began, literally, in somebody's back yard in 1993. The organization recently expanded its services to include people suffering from cancer, MS, heart or liver disease, and other chronic illnesses. Its ongoing mission is clear: to ensure its clients can continue to live their lives with dignity and self-respect. Today, private donations, local business support, and grants fund 100 percent of the organization's expenses. The gala's profit covers up to four months of AAP's food vouchers, which cost approximately $50,000 per month.

So, when news hit that MacNaughton was this year's recipient of AAP's Herb Lazenby Community Service Award -- created to honor an individual's significant commitment to service within a community -- her philanthropic efforts beyond her contributions to AAP, also came into view. She served as the Vice President of Administration and Regulatory Compliance for Managed Health Network, a managed behavioral healthcare company, and has been quite active in a number of professional and charitable organizations -- serving on the boards of the San Francisco Opera Guild, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and Bay Area Community Resources, among others.

This one caught my eye: A Cure Cervical Cancer Clinic in Haiti bears her name.

Evening Under the Stars is AAP's largest fundraiser and 2016 marks its 23rd annual outing. But the event does more than entertain attendees -- The Village People headline this year -- it also informs them about AAP's organizational mission and honors those in the community that have supported them. Here, MacNaughton opens up about her involvement with AAP, HIV/AIDS, and the importance of giving back.


Greg Archer: You're from the Bay Area, so tell me about how AAP hit your radar?

Cathy MacNaughton: I learned about the organization about 10 years ago. Rich Young [of Palm Springs' Rich Young Design], is one of my friends and he worked with me as an interior designer. That's how it all happened. We went to the event. It was so much fun, but when I learned about AAP's mission, one thing immediately became clear: it was going to be one of the charities I was going to contribute to on an annual basis. The fact that AAP provides food and furnishings, and living arrangements for people who may not have that much time in this world ... I was in awe.

Greg Archer: But you have been involved in other charitable HIV/AIDS endeavors?

Cathy MacNaughton: My husband Angus and I had also been involved in Dining by Design, an Elle Decor event for University of California San Francisco. What that organization did was raise funds for the university, which has been making huge strides in advancing a cure for AIDS. They developed a system that would prevent the transmission of AIDS to children whose mothers had HIV/AIDS. When we moved to the desert part-time, I started helping out with AAP.

Greg Archer: What were your thoughts when you discovered you were this year's reward recipient?

Cathy MacNaughton: I was amazed. I felt very honored. I strongly believe in what the organization does, and how it does it factors into a lot of it. They do a marvelous job in putting the ball together. Evening Under the Stars is the most popular event [for the organization] of the year; most of the giving is done at that event.

Greg Archer: Many of us have some connection to HIV/AIDS ...

Cathy MacNaughton: You know, when we were younger, in our twenties and thirties, we lost so many great friends and loved ones. It affected me very much. It was awful in those first few years [in the 1980s]. I am glad that research has helped in the advancement for an AIDS cure, and to prolong life. But in the early days ... the people we lost ... that was horrific. That was definitely one of the deciding factors of me getting involved.

Greg Archer: Why do you 'give back?'

Cathy MacNaughton: There was a time when I didn't have much money and I was a single mother. I thought, if something changes in my life and I am ever able to have enough money to give back, that's what I am going to do. There are givers and there are takers, and I am a giver. You know ... when you give, you get more. It just happens that way. I don't know if it's karma, or what, but it's just the most amazing thing. I have received so much; found so many friends.

Greg Archer: Well, yes. Often when we 'get back' it's never really in the form of money, per se ...

Cathy MacNaughton: Right. It's life-affirming. Other things happen. I am really grateful that my life turned around and I am able to do this more.

Greg Archer: What are you most excited about next?

Cathy MacNaughton: That there is a cure for cervical cancer, helping with medical issues ... and being there to help out as much as I can.

Greg Archer: And what's your biggest hope for AAP?

Cathy MacNaughton: That there is a cure found for HIV/AIDS and that the organization will continue to exist to help others with terminal diseases.

Learn more about AAP here. Discover more about the 23rd annual Evening Under the Stars gala, to be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 30, 2016, at 6 p.m. at the O'Donnell Golf Club in Palm Springs here.