Heroes in the Fight: Meet Laura

For Laura Durakovich, fighting HIV in our community means raising awareness, raising funds—and raising a glass with friends and family at a special event every spring. It’s called Dining Out for Life, and it’s Laura’s way of bringing HIV care and services to the table.

Dining Out for Life brings together restaurant owners, staff, and patrons for a fun night on the town, with a charitable twist: At least 25% of each participating restaurant’s proceeds for the evening go to support San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s lifesaving HIV care and prevention services. “It’s a way for the restaurants to give back, and for their staff to give back,” says Laura. “They’re donating a quarter of their proceeds for that whole night back to the city and this cause.”

As a volunteer “ambassador” for Dining Out for Life, Laura plays a vital part in the event’s success. “Being an ambassador is basically hosting a restaurant for the day,” she explains. “You invite all your friends, family, and coworkers to come hang out and eat with you on the night of the event and support a good cause.” Ambassadors welcome diners to the event, sell tickets for our prize drawings, and collect donations throughout the evening.

This will be Laura’s ninth year volunteering. What keeps her coming back year after year? “Really, it’s a chance to get involved and support the community. AIDS is still a very important issue in this city, and this event is making people aware that HIV is still happening to friends and family and people in our neighborhoods.” she says. “The money Dining Out for Life raises is going right back in to our community—that makes it even more compelling for me.”

At last count, nearly 16,000 people in San Francisco were living with HIV. For the thousands who walk through San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s doors each year, our services and programs offer connections to medical care, and housing and benefits resources, substance use treatment, and a safe space to learn ways to protect and manage their own health and wellness. “I don’t think there’s ever enough we can say about the foundation and what it does for people in the city of San Francisco,” Laura shares.

In her nine years volunteering, Laura has watched locals and out-of-towners alike embrace Dining Out for Life. “I see the same people come out to dinner year after year,” she says. “It really builds community spirit and lets people know this is still an issue.” But even those unfamiliar with the event—mostly folks from outside the Bay Area, she says—chip in enthusiastically. “I’ve had diners coming from Australia and London who just happened to be dining out that night. People who don’t even live here donate to the prize drawings, even though they won’t be present to win. It definitely gets people to reach into their pockets.”

In the weeks preceding the event, Dining Out for Life ambassadors spread the word about the event and aim to fill every last reservation for their venue—a daunting prospect for new volunteers. But Laura offers words of encouragement to newbies: “That first year, you aren’t just thrown in and told, ‘OK, fill this 400-seat restaurant.’” New ambassadors are coached by seasoned volunteers, she says. “It’s a great way to get involved, and you have a ton of support.”

New ambassadors also have their pick of local venues to host—and can hit up new restaurants to participate, from pizza joints to five-star dining. “If your favorite restaurant isn’t already involved, you can go to them and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Restaurant Owner, why aren’t you involved? I eat here all the time—wouldn’t it be great if I were to host your restaurant for this night?’” Laura enthuses. “And if you have friends who like to eat out, it’s pretty much the easiest sell: ‘Let’s go out on this Tuesday night.’ Everyone eats, so this definitely has mass appeal.”

Laura emphasizes than anyone can get involved with Dining Out for Life and enjoy supporting our community’s health. “When you’re doing something good and you’re helping to raise money for a good cause, it makes you feel good,” she says. “And donating your time doesn’t feel like work when you’re making it fun.”

Be your own hero: Sign up to volunteer as an ambassador with Dining Out for Life on April 22, or mark your calendar for a night out at one of the Bay Area’s participating restaurants. Learn more and register online.

Inspired by Laura’s dedication to supporting our community? Share some words of encouragement in the comments below!

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